On Passover, we’re instructed to imagine. What was it like to live without freedom? What did the Israelite slaves feel when the plagues swept Egypt? What went through their minds as they were confined in their homes on that first Passover night, tremulously awaiting liberation? All our lives we’ve had to work at recreating that experience of oppression, aided by matzah, bitter herbs, saltwater — ritual props meant to transport us to a different time and place.

Now, with a modern-day plague, and confined to our homes, the Passover story has never been more relatable.

What’s perhaps most notable about our current experience is how it crosses so many divides. No one has been spared the fear and anxiety. No one is exempt from staying apart on a holiday that’s always been about opening doors and coming together. No one feels that these nights (or days) are like any others.

For the first time in many of our lifetimes, it’s not the lack of freedom that’s hard to imagine — it’s the joy of liberation.

With so many now struggling — especially isolated elderly sheltering in place — UJA launched a poignant new Passover program this year.

Working with 75 nonprofit partners, representing the broad geographic, religious, and ethnic diversity of Jewish New York, we identified the most needy from across the five boroughs, Westchester, and Long Island, and provided 8,500 holiday meals, seder kits, and matzah to over 4,000 households.

We’re grateful to our caterer, Foremost, who prepared and delivered the meals, as well as to the Jewish Communal Fund, for making a significant contribution to underwrite the cost of the program. You can read more about the Passover deliveries here.

Our goal was to reach the entirety of our community — Haredi and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, Russian-born and New York native — recognizing that every segment of our community is equally a part of this collective crisis.

And in this time of universal social distancing and self-isolation, it’s also clear that so many across the spectrum of our community crave the opportunity to come together. For the last two weeks, on Friday afternoons, we’ve organized interdenominational pre-Shabbat gatherings, featuring rabbis from the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. Thousands have logged on to listen to the teachings and blessings of rabbis they’ve never heard before. These interdenominational gatherings powerfully reaffirm what we know in our hearts to be true: that what we have in common far outweighs our differences.

Experiencing the beauty of these new connections, I can’t help but think it would be a different sort of tragedy if we come out of this pandemic without newfound acceptance for one another, and appreciation for the community that we share.

Let’s hold that aspiration in hand as we sit around our more modest seder tables this evening. And particularly those who are physically alone, or have suffered the loss of a loved one, know that you have a community that extends far and wide that sits with you. Apart but together, we’ll tell the story of our liberation of long ago, and pray for another redemption — this one to come in our own time, and very soon.

Wishing everyone chag sameach — a healthy and happy Passover