For the last three years, Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe, who works full time with interfaith couples, has had a difficult time helping them cope with the difficulties that come when Passover overlaps Easter. For example, the second day of Passover coincides this month with the Christian observance of Good Friday.
But this year the rabbi, founding director of 18 Doors Atlanta, a national Jewish nonprofit that supports interfaith relationships, hasn’t had to deal with many questions about navigating the social and religious demands of the two holidays when they overlap. For interfaith couples, their Passover seder is likely to be a virtual experience celebrated electronically, and the same is true with holiday church services.
“It’s actually easier now,” the Reconstructionist rabbi said, with some relief in her voice. “Interfaith couples don’t have to chose where they’re going.”
With what used to be such difficult questions settled, the interfaith couples that Packer-Monroe counsels have confronted more urgent issues that have arisen out of the health crisis.
“I think the couples I work with are finding different ways to connect with the community and be creative,” she pointed out. “This is a time for creativity in the way we relate to each other. There’s a new normal right now.”
For interfaith couples who may not be synagogue members or feel very much a part of a larger faith community, the stress caused by sudden and sharp economic dislocation and a rapidly changing epidemic has, according to Packer-Monroe, made life very challenging.
“What I am hearing is this uncertainty. It’s the word people are using the most. This is a time of uncertainty and it can feel scary. I talked to several of the couples I work with who are buying guns because they are really terrified of how things are going to unfold.”
Packer-Monroe is married to a hospital chaplain whom she describes as “being on the front lines,” working not just with patients but with staff who are feeling the kind of pressure that she says sometimes verges on panic.
“It’s very stressful there,” she emphasized. “There is just so much fear, so much fear, at the hospital now.”
This year, just before Passover, the rabbi brought together several of the interfaith couples she works with around a virtual Shabbat table. For 1 ½ hours she talked about not only how to better understand the holiday, but how to make their celebration more meaningful.
“We have a choice every moment,” she said. “We can think about fear and scarcity and not enough-ness. We can feel we are not going to be okay and we are not safe, or we can go into that place of faith and gratitude and be open to that possibility.”
What she found with her couples, recently, is that the social isolation of being together at home has given them a greater appreciation of each other. Life is less frenetic and they feel more connected.
“One of the couples said that we’re so grateful for this time,” the rabbi said. “It’s made us realize that we still love one another. We’re both working from home and we look across at each other from our computers on the dining room table all day long. We still love one another. Like, what a gift this is.”
The Hebrew word for Egypt, according to the rabbi, is mitzrayim, which means a place that is narrow and it constricts us. The challenge, she tells her couples group, is how to get out of that.
“How do we get out of that place of narrowness where we are stuck? I mean, those are the themes of Passover and Easter, freedom and renewal,” she said. “What are the gifts we gain when we get out of those narrow places of enslavement, embrace this time, and really connect?”
Several couples, though, didn’t wait for the holiday to take the rabbi up on her idea about the importance of togetherness. During their recent virtual Shabbat call three of the women announced they were pregnant.