Virtual Seder

“Why is this night different from all others?” That is the central question of the Passover Seder, a Jewish tradition in which families gather to feast, drink, and, most importantly, recount their ancestors’ escape from slavery in Egypt. There are many answers to this foundational question: On Passover, Jews replace bread with Matzah, unleavened bread that resembles an oversized square cracker; they eat raw bitter herbs; and they dip their pinkies into saltwater. Well, last week, a Beaconite attended two Seders that were different from all others. Rather than gather around a huge, candlelit table centred around the Passover plate, he sat by himself and logged onto Zoom, taking turns with his parents, family, and friends to read from the haggadah — the text that enshrines the order of the Seder. They even did their best to chant in sync, which was more funny than effective. One of the Seders was attended by more than 30 people from ten different time zones, a majority of whom were the Beaconite’s father’s cousins, who he always enjoys spending time with but hardly gets to see. It was fascinating to speak with people of all ages, from children to grandparents, and living all over the world, from Tel Aviv to Tortola. To end the Seder, Jews say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” and then let the wine flow. This year the Beaconite said, “Next year in person,” and closed his screen.

Info blackout

As the lockdown continues and journalists are pushed to operate more and more within the bounds of the internet and phone calls, a Beaconite is troubled by the difficulties of accessing important information of public interest. Most residents have seen all the questions and comments on Facebook wondering why certain actions have been taken and what comes next. They also want to know other facts: Does government plan to continue testing people for Covid-19? Are the borders currently open to Virgin Islanders and belongers who want to come home from abroad? Are there any suspected cases of the virus on the sister islands? Is government taking into account the possibility that recent tests could include false negatives? Community members want to know that they’re in good hands and that the territory is prepared for the worst. But many questions are difficult for the Beaconite to answer, because securing an interview during these times has been extremely challenging and leaders have stopped giving press conferences. Most information requests have been met with either silence or deflection. This treatment is especially troubling given that many media outlets, including the Beacon, are long-time members of the Public Information and Education subcommittee of the National Disaster Management Council. That committee, as the Beacon has always understood it, is designed in large part to facilitate collaboration and a two-way flow of information during crises. But during a recent PIE meeting, the underlying tone of the advice given to media representatives seemed to suggest that in any emergency they are supposed to follow in lockstep with the government by regurgitating whatever information it puts out. This reporter begs to differ. Of course, the media has a responsibility to disseminate accurate information about any disaster, including a pandemic, and it should always remain impartial and give credit where it is due. But the media must also uphold its role as a watchdog of the government, and ask hard questions when needed. What the media isn’t (and should never be) is an uncritical mouthpiece for government officials. Yet, in this lockdown, the most important information for the people has been tightly controlled by government: Officials have decided when the people will become aware of something (a tremendous power in these circumstances when people are in the fear); how they will become aware (a patchy radio broadcast by the premier and deputy premier last week raised more questions than it answered); and what they will be aware of (without press conferences, opportunities to ask questions are few and far between). The Beaconite understands the importance of the work officials are doing, and the pressure they must be feeling at this unprecedented time. But she would also like a lot more help as she works to hold up a light — a beacon, if you will — that the public can trust.