WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Religious leaders in Wilmington are proving we have more commonalities than differences facing the COVID-19 crisis.
Both Temple of Israel Rabbi Emily Losben-Ostrov and Port City Community Church Pastor Mike Ashcraft have close friends who have fallen ill with the novel coronavirus and both are preparing their own messages of hope for their respective congregations as the Jewish Passover continues and the Christian Easter approaches.
On Thursday, “Rabbi Emily” as her congregants call her, had to attend an online zoom funeral for a friend in New York who died from the virus.
Losben-Ostrov has family across New York and New Jersey who are in the thick of the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Both the Jewish passover and Christian Easter are celebratory holidays, though they’ll look much different for people of faith this year as most gatherings are banned and many families must stay apart.
“For so many people, coming together on Passover and having the Seder, it’s just about being together as a family and a lot less about the very involved rituals and even the food," Rabbi Losben-Ostrov said. “So, for so many people, while this is a celebration there is also a sense of mourning of not being able to come together.”
For Losben-Ostrov, it’s the kind of thing she heard about growing up; her great-great-aunt and great-great-uncle both died of the Spanish flu.
“I had this idea in my mind and I would hear stories from my mother who heard stories about them from her grandmother and never could I have imagined that 101 years later we would be dealing with something so similar in so many aspects," she said.
Port City Community Church Pastor Mike Ashcraft also has a close friend he says is fighting for his life, sick with COVID-19.
“So, this is very personal,” he said.
“One of the things that we talked about this past weekend with our church is this idea, you know, the ancient Jewish tradition and even what the Scriptures teach us is this idea of lament; it’s for us to acknowledge that things are hard and to actually feel those things and then trust that there’s something beautiful,” Ashcroft said. “From my perspective... to trust that God actually meets us in them which I think is really what Easter is about, it’s what Good Friday is about, He entered into our suffering.”
Ashcraft encourages everyone to recognize any feelings of disappointment or frustration over what the coronavirus may be causing in your life.
“We don’t have to pretend that it’s not a big deal that you don’t get to go to grandmas house or you don’t have your Easter egg hunt or your kids aren’t getting baskets from whoever they usually get them from,” he said. “Those are hard things and just because it’s not comparable to someone else’s suffering doesn’t mean that it’s not hard.”
There are also some silver linings. For Rabbi Emily, she’ll spend her Seders over zoom with family and friends she otherwise may not have spent time with.
"So, there’s actually an element of even though we’re not physically together we’re coming together as a community in ways that we wouldn’t,” she said. “You don’t get a pass on Passover. And Passover isn’t going to pass us over. We need to find a way to celebrate it. Yes it will be different, but if nothing else we get together and we have our Seders in whichever way we do it. We read personally about it; it is an opportunity to escape and remember that joy and to remember that it is a story of us escaping -- the whole story is about us having struggled and being able to persevere -- and we have to pray and hope that that’s what’s going to happen.”
While the Wilmington Police Department sent out a public notice Wednesday night that “drive-in” church services are not allowed under the state’s “Stay at Home” order, both the Temple of Israel and Port City Community Church are offering live online services and various other opportunities to connect and engage virtually with their respective messages of hope.
“In all of the struggle and the pain and the hardships that we’re going to continue to experience there’s tons of reasons to be hopeful and to be encouraged,” Ashcraft said. "I hope that that’s what we can work to do for each other. That’s what we are trying to do as a church is to always be hopeful and be helpful in everything that we do and bring to the world around us.”