Although the statewide gatherings ban has kept houses of worship closed to congregants, Bellmore-Merrick religious leaders are reaching their communities virtually, and keeping the faith through the coronavirus pandemic.
Rabbis and pastors now give sermons on Zoom and Facebook Live, or pre-tape services and post them online. Clergy members are also taking extra care to comfort worshipers during this unprecedented time, and in preparation for Easter and Passover, they are lifting spirits from a safe distance.
Chabad Center for Jewish Life
Rabbi Shimon Kramer said the Chabad Center for Jewish Life’s annual public Seder is usually packed with congregants, but because large public gatherings are canceled, the chabad found a way for its congregants to celebrate Passover at a safe distance.
“We’re not having public services, but we’re working around the clock,” he said.
On Monday, Chabad prepared nearly 50 Seder to-go kits filled with materials needed for a proper Passover, including food for the Seder plate, hand-baked shmurah matzo, wine, a kiddush cup, a Hebrew-English haggadah and instructions. The kits were safely delivered to families around town on Tuesday to ensure a timely celebration.
The Chabad also delivered thousands of shmurah matzos to people in the community. “The Zohar says when you eat the matzo on the first night, it brings faith, and on the second night, it brings healing, and we’re hoping this will help,” Kramer said. “Matzo is the best medication without any side effects.”
Community Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Moira Ahearne, of Merrick’s Community Presbyterian Church, has adapted to using Zoom and social media to connect with her congregants. The church will pre-record its Easter service on Saturday so parishioners can view it online Sunday morning, when they would have attended services.
Ahearne has also asked congregants to hang pastel-covered ribbons outside their homes as a message of hope. This past weekend, the church’s railings and trees were adorned with ribbons fluttering in the spring breeze.
“There’s no rule book that tells you how to get through this, but we can’t let the isolation, fear and panic drive us apart,” she said. “We need to find ways to connect, and that will get us through this.”
Merrick Jewish Centre
In the early days of the pandemic, the Merrick Jewish Centre formed a committee to contact its members and assess their needs. The synagogue is also offering daily online classes, virtual services and counseling. For Passover, congregants will be able to access video sermons on the center’s website, and see the familiar faces of Rabbi Charles Klein and Rabbi Jack Dermer.
“We have been down the path of crisis before in our community, notably after Hurricane Sandy, but this pandemic takes it to an entirely different level,” Klein said. “The threat to life is ever-present, and the emotional strain is extremely difficult to everyone.”
The committee includes a team of experienced mental health professionals, Klein said, who are available if congregants need someone to talk to. “We’ve created a wide range of programs to deal with some of the critical emotional issues that are being presented by the pandemic,” he said.
The synagogue will also host a virtual Seder to give people the opportunity to share Passover with the entire community. “In a certain way, social distancing has brought people closer together,” Klein said, “and it should only last when this is all over.”
St. John Lutheran Church
Pastor Nancy Rackoczy, of St. John Lutheran Church in Bellmore, joked that the pandemic has turned her into a televangelist. Her outreach includes stations of the cross via Zoom on Tuesdays, evening vespers on Facebook Live on Wednesdays, noontime Zoom Bible study on Thursdays and two virtual services on Sundays.
She has also sent daily emails to parishioners, which include prayers, hymns, updates, helpful links and uplifting videos or images. A recent email included a photo of a banner hung outside the church thanking first responders and health care workers.
“All the pastors I know are working harder than ever,” Rackoczy said. “No one is taking it easy, but we are tending to our flocks.”