Tufts University’s faith communities are experiencing their first on-campus observances of Passover, Easter and Ramadan since the COVID-19 pandemic began. To celebrate the holidays, various small-group, in-person events and Zoom events have been occurring, with more planned for the coming weeks.
Tufts Hillel enlisted students to lead in-person “micro-Seders,” the ritual meal eaten by observant Jewish people on the first two nights of Passover. Passover began the evening of March 27 and will end the evening of April 4 this year. The Seders took place in the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex at 574 Boston Ave.
Attendance at each Seder was capped at 10 students, and student leaders were given the option to restrict attendance at their Seders to their friends, given that some may have been uncomfortable hosting unfamiliar students during a pandemic.
Seder leaders were advised to take COVID-19 precautions seriously.
"To minimize aerosol, you could consider having half of your attendees eat for a certain amount of time, and half eat later," sophomores Jacob Brenner and Hannah Pearl, Hillel's Conservative Minyan chairs, said in an email to the leaders. "This is up to you, but it could be a good way to make people feel more comfortable."
Hillel is also offering one kosher for Passover meal per day over the course of the eight-day holiday. Students on meal plans can also pick up kosher for Passover food from Dewick-MacPhie and Carmichael Dining Centers. To ensure the food is kosher, it will be prepared in separate kitchens and stored in dedicated areas, according to astatement released by Tufts Dining.
The Protestant community held its first hybrid worship service of the year on the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, on March 28. Ten pre-registered students were able to participate in person, with other members of the community joining via Zoom.
“We will probably not have a palm procession, as is traditional, but there will be palms available to wave around,” The Rev. Daniel Bell, Tufts' Protestant chaplain, wrote in an email to the Daily.
While Tufts’ observant Protestant students have traditionally attended a local church on Easter Sunday, this year, the community will hold worship services over Zoom. Thomas Dawkins, music director and organist for the Chaplaincy, will join from his home to play the piano and sing hymns, as he has done weekly for the community’s Sunday services since the pandemic started.
Bell reflected on what worship in general has looked like amid the pandemic, and how that will apply to Easter.
“The Protestant Evening Worship services we’ve been having on Zoom have been deeply meaningful,” Bell said. “The same, I trust, will hold true on Easter Sunday, when we will gather over Zoom to celebrate our faith in the Resurrection and reaffirm our conviction that sin and death have been conquered by the Risen Christ.”
Catholic Chaplain Lynn Cooper explained what Easter looks like in a typical year for the Catholic community on campus.
"In a typical year, we celebrate Easter with mass and an ecumenical Easter Dinner with the greater Christian community and friends," Cooper wrote in an email to the Daily. "Some local students travel home, but we usually are a large assembly at Easter Sunday Mass, with out of town visitors joining us as well."
Cooper explained what the plan is for this year.
"This year, we will be offering a special COVID-times Stations of the Cross on Wednesday of Holy Week," Cooper said. "We will be meditating on the intersection of our lives during the COVID and Jesus’s own trials."
On Easter Sunday, which is April 4, Cooper explained that members of the Catholic community will gather on Zoom to watch a pre-recorded Mass.
“This service will no doubt include fabulous music, which I know nourishes the soul of our community,” Cooper said.
The Catholic and Protestant communities will collaborate to hold a joint Good Friday service, and will have a celebratory dinner over Zoom on Easter, between the Catholic service and the Protestant service.
“This year, Easter may not bring packed pews and the bright scent of a lily-soaked sanctuary,” Cooper said. “But I am hopeful that we will be able to embrace Easter’s celebratory spirit.”
In terms of celebrating Ramadan, which will begin in the evening of April 12 and will end in the evening of May 12, the Tufts Muslim Students Association has been working with the Muslim Chaplain, Abdul-Malik Merchant, to provide students with meals and Ramadan care packages, including a prayerbook and other spiritual items.
The communications chair of the MSA, sophomore Faizah Wulandana, held a Ramadan town hall last month to hear concerns and desires from students who celebrate the holiday, which MSA vice president Iman Ali said has helped inform their planning.
While students would normally eat together at the Muslim House before the start of the fast, this year, Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center will make available to-go boxes for Suhur, the pre-dawn meal that is eaten before fasting begins. The Chaplaincy will provide Suhur boxes for students not on meal plans, Ali said.
"We are hoping to do a couple of socially distanced picnics, in groups of 10 or less, around campus, so that people still have that element [of community]," Ali, a junior said.
Beyond meals, Ali said that Merchant will be facilitating regular lectures and discussions.
"[Topics may include] self-care during the month of Ramadan, how to boost your faith during this month … and also a mini-series leading up to Ramadan so that people feel like they're prepared and they have the resources going into it," Ali said.
Ali noted that students who have class when the fast ends each day may be granted excused absences, and religious accommodations are available to students who will be taking exams that coincide with iftars, the meals eaten after sunset. The MSA will provide email templates for students to request these accommodations.
Ali spoke to the importance of the holiday and MSA's desire to honor it during a unique year.
“Usually people are either spending this month with families or they have some element of being able to find community, and we want to make sure we can bridge that gap … being able to organize group calls, whether that means breaking fast together on Zoom, or even having a buddy system where we have people pair up and check in on each other and see how we can help each other be accountable and support each throughout this month,” Ali said.