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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
Since Harvard shut down its campus over coronavirus, Interim Minister of Memorial Church Stephanie A. Paulsell has been preaching her sermons into her phone while under a blanket on her bed “to muffle the echoes.”
“Everything changed so much Sunday to Sunday since the beginning of March,” Paulsell said.
This upcoming Sunday is different for another reason; it is Easter Sunday, one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.
As Jewish and Christian communities around the world celebrate Passover and Easter, campus faith leaders have likewise been tasked with finding innovative ways to bring worshippers together.
Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, the executive director of Harvard Hillel, wrote in an email that he would host an online Seder – a ritual meal to mark the beginning of Passover – on Thursday, the second evening of the holiday. So far, more than 170 attendees have registered for the Seder, according to Steinberg.
Harvard Hillel also held a Seder over Zoom led by Rabbi Jennifer “Jenn” Queen on Wednesday, the first evening of Passover, according to its website.
In contrast, Harvard Chabad, an affiliate of the Orthodox Jewish Chabad movement, will not host a virtual Seder. Its website contains a link to Chabad.org, which explains that, per Chabad’s beliefs, a Seder should not be held over the phone or Skype.
“Shabbat and Jewish holidays are a blessed respite from all digital connectivity,” the website reads. “This means that you have the opportunity to lead your own Seder, live and in person, for your household.”
Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi, the founder and leader of Harvard Chabad, wrote that, though he will hold his Seder with only immediate family in attendance, they will be “united with the entire Harvard Chabad family in our thoughts.”
“The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that a person is found where their thoughts are,” Zarchi wrote in an email. “As we welcome in the awesome holiday of our redemption – amidst this very difficult time of Coronavirus — we will be thinking intensely of all in the Harvard Chabad family.”
Zarchi also said Chabad provided students still living on campus with some of the components of the Seder plate.
“For the students that stayed in Cambridge and are away from their families for the Passover holiday, we helped many secure Seder provisions, including Shmura Matzah – referred to in the Kabbalah as the Bread of Faith and Healing,” Zarchi wrote.
Crista Martin, a spokesperson for Harvard University Dining Services, wrote in an email that HUDS was working with students still on campus to ensure they had access to kosher foods.
“HUDS has reached out to and spoken with students individually to support them with specific kosher products or foods based on their requests or preferences (including, of course, matzo),” Martin wrote.
Several churches in Harvard Square plan to provide audio or video services to parishioners throughout Holy Week and on Easter.
Reverend William T. Kelly, a Catholic chaplain and pastor of St. Paul’s Parish, wrote in a newsletter that the church would live-stream services for Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Kelly wrote that technicians have been working to upgrade the church’s WiFi in preparation for the services.
He also wrote in the newsletter that St. Paul’s was working to ensure the safety of those who are involved in performing and broadcasting the services.
“At this writing, we are still weighing the concerns about folks (musicians, camera man, server, etc…) leaving their homes to venture out to Cambridge. It will certainly be a skeleton crew at best,” Kelly wrote.
University Lutheran Church also plans to broadcast Holy Week and Easter services via Zoom. On the church’s website, parishioners were encouraged to participate musically in the Easter Sunday services.
“Have a bell handy and ring it whenever the word ‘Alleluia’ is said or sung!” the site reads.
Harvard’s Memorial Church will offer a virtual service for Maundy Thursday — which commemorates the Last Supper — over Zoom, according to Paulsell.
“We ask everybody to just bring some food and drink, bread and wine, or crackers or juice, or whatever people have on hand,” Paulsell said. “It's a way of trying to have that ritual together. It's helpful to be able to see somebody lift up the bread and then lift up the cup and say the prayers.”
Memorial Church will also have a recorded service for Good Friday available on its website and broadcast a pre-recorded version of its Easter Sunday service over the radio, according to Paulsell.
Paulsell said that she will miss the feeling of community created by traditional Easter festivities.
“I miss everyone being together. At Easter, the church is always packed, with two services on Sunday. They're both full of people,” she said. “There's great music, usually trumpets. And the choir is so magnificent. I'm definitely going to miss the choir.”
She said she will also miss seeing the attendees dressed up for church.
“I miss seeing everybody's hats,” Paulsell added. “We're going to have people send us pictures of themselves in their Easter finery, and we'll put it up on our social media.”
—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.
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