Coronavirus News: Social distancing putting a stop to Jewish Passover tradition in Rockland County

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The burning of leavened bread is a tradition in the Jewish faith to mark the start of Passover, but this year the ceremonies are decidedly low-key in Rockland County.

"We are burning in a fashion that the neighborhood could do it safely," one Monsey resident said. "We always burn every year, and it's a barbecue."

A number of small fires were set Wednesday with varying degrees of social distancing. These individual rituals are usually discouraged by officials because of the risk of fire spreading out of control.

In years past, fire departments in Rockland County have helped organize and supervise bonfires in the orthodox communities of Spring Valley, Monsey and New Square. The concern this year is of course the coronavirus pandemic, and any communal event drawing hundreds of people was out of the question.

At the urging of town officials, rabbis reached out to congregants, reminding them they should refrain from the ceremonial burning, just one of the many ways this year's holiday will be different.

"Usually my father would go to one of my siblings for Passover, he's not doing this," said Yossi Gestetner, of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. "My in-laws would go to their child, they are not doing this. I would have guests, I'm not having any guests."

Many in the orthodox community say they've been unfairly singled out -- accused of flouting social distancing directives.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wished Jewish New Yorkers a happy Passover, drawing on the holiday's message of hope.

"Next year the promised land, next year will be better," Cuomo said. "And yes, this has been a difficult month. We will learn a lot and move forward, and will be better for it."

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