Holy Week and Passover are traditionally times that bring communities together, but when faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, how do people come together in a time of social distancing? 

The UR Catholic Newman Community has taken their services online. During Holy Week, UR Newman had five services on Zoom, Instagram, and Facebook: one on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and two on Sunday. At least 175 alumni, parents, and students joined UR Newman for Easter Sunday mass. In addition to having Easter Sunday online, UR Newman made Easter meals available for pickup to students still in the Rochester area. 

Even with services online, UR Newman has kept traditions such as Senior Reflections afloat. 

During the spring semester, UR Newman has seniors speak and reflect on their faith during their undergraduate career. Senior Micheal Chavrimootoo, who was scheduled to speak on Holy Thursday, delivered his reflection on Zoom. “A lot of people were participating,” Chavrimooto said. “We had alums doing readings, every day. All four days we had a different person to do reflections.” 

Father Brian Cool of UR Newman said he wants to keep supporting the UR community and students, and has been asking students for their help and ideas. Student musicians plan for services, help operate Zoom, and upload music and readings online. Alumni and students partake in readings through the calls. 

UR Newman has gotten creative in how they continue aspects of their services, mailing 700 pieces of palm to UR families that would be traditionally given at the beginning of mass during Palm Sunday. “I’ve been at the University for about over 20 years,” said Father Cool, “and this is probably the most impactful thing [that we’ve done], it feels like people really appreciated them a lot.”

An important aspect of the UR religious communities is the social space they create for students to interact with each other. The UR Hillel Chapter has pushed to replicate that social touch online.

While a UR student would regularly be able to have a chat over Starbucks coffee through Hillel services, it’s not possible to have that online. Instead of having traditional religious services, Hillel has dedicated itself to give students a place to catch up and interact with each other.

Meg Wells, the UR Hillel Director for Jewish Student life, described some of the online programs Hillel has started: Matzah pizza-making, Zoom drop-ins, and online student meet-ups.

While Hillel did not hold a formal Passover seder through Zoom, due to most students having seder with their families, for students who did not have arrangements, Hillel helped them find seders to join.

For Jewish students still in the Rochester area, Wells provided Passover gift boxes for them. The care packages included grape juice, matzah, and sweet treats. Wells delivered them by driving to the students’ residences, running up to the doorstep, and placing the box down. She then would retreat to maintain social distancing, and text the student that their package was there. 

While the Hillel community is not able to be physically together, Hillel has adapted to the online practice. “[Hillel is] still here,” Wells said. “It’s the biggest thing.”

Correction (5/4/20): An earlier version of this article misspelled a subject’s name. He is named Michael Chavrimootoo, not Chaivrimootoo. 

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