Limited by COVID-19, Jewish community finds ways to keep traditions alive, connections strong – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted By on September 23, 2020

Jewish families celebrate the Jewish new year with the shofar, a sacred instrument made from a rams horn, at home due to the Covid pandemic. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Theres a certain comfort people of faith find in religious services: the shared sense of tradition, the feeling of kinship with others who gather.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the Fox Point synagogue Congregation Sinai to suspend in-person events, congregant David Hirsch and his two children lost that warmth and connectedness they loved experiencing each week.

You give someone a hug, you see them if you haven't seen them in a while, a kiss on the cheek you look in a persons eyes and you can smile and laugh together, Hirsch said of the prayer services and classes his family attended before the pandemic.

Now it's this feeling of disconnect, he said.

Hirsch said his family was heartbroken they couldnt attend services for Rosh Hashana the Jewish new year, beginning Friday evening this year and Yom Kippur known as the Day of Atonement, occurring 10 days later.

Brian Avner, right, the director of youth education at Congregation Sinai, demonstrates how to blow into a shofar, a sacred instrument made from a ram's horn, as Ari Hirsch, 9, left, and his sister, Ava, 10, watch at the Hirsch home in Fox Point on Sept. 2.(Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Seeking a solution for the distance the pandemic has imposed, the congregations youth education director came up with a way to reconnect with families and give them a taste of their treasured communal traditions.

Brian Avner, the director, organized visits to the homes of at least a dozen Congregation Sinai families in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana to sound a shofar, or rams horn, and teach the children about the holiday.

Traditionally, a shofar is blown after services each day of the month before the new year. With the synagogue closed, Avner wanted to make sure the children of the congregation could take part in the ritual themselves and make a meaningful connection with the holiday.

Hearing the sound is a wake-up. It jolts you, it reminds you that youre coming to an important time in the year, he said.

With classes and events online for the rest of the year, Avner and the congregation staff have been looking for ways to bring Jewish traditions into families homes and extend the communal experience thats so integral to the faith.

Theyve assembled Rosh Hashana-centric baskets with prayer books and the traditional apples and honey. And they're planning to set up asukkah, or hut, that families can stop by and decorate for the October holiday of Sukkot.

It gives us that sense of belonging to something bigger, he said. Even with all the craziness in the world, knowing we have a community doing the same rituals we are and experiencing the holidays in a similar way to us is really important.

Avners shofar-teaching visit to the Hirsch family front yard was a delight for Ava, 10, and Ari, 9, their dad said.

Ava Hirsch blows into a shofar.(Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Ava learned how to use a shofar that was a gift from her mother before she unexpectedly died last March. And Ari wants a shofar of his ownnow.

The kids have definitely embraced their Jewish roots, Hirsch said.

He said the family has found love and strength in their faith community following the death of Nicole. The deep connection forged at Congregation Sinai makes the pause on in-person events even more difficult, he said.

Hirsch has helped his children understand the fortitude and support a Jewish community can provide after tragedy. His parents survived the Holocaust in Germany, his father emerging from Auschwitz alive at the wars end. Growing up in Oshkosh, his fathers tattooed identification number was a visible reminder of his history.

Ari Hirsch blows into a toy shofar at his home in Fox Point.(Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

His faith and his belief in Judaism carried him through and helped him survive some of the worst concentration camps that that regime ever created, Hirsch said of his father. Thats an integral part of who we are in our family.

Avners shofar demonstration helped Ava and Ari further connect with their heritage and faith in a tumultuous time, Hirsch said.

It gives them yet another idea, another practice that they can incorporate into their lives that has meaning and that makes them feel valued, he said.

And, Hirsch said, blowing a shofar on a front lawn in Fox Point is reminiscent, almost, of the comforting presence of congregants gathered for a service. Neighbors of all faiths can hear the sound and share in its message.

Its an opportunity to commune with our fellow man, he said, and to be part of something bigger, something better.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or scarson@gannett.com. Follow heron Twitter at @SCarson_News.

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Limited by COVID-19, Jewish community finds ways to keep traditions alive, connections strong - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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