Synagogues adapting for High Holy Days in the era of COVID-19 – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on August 16, 2020

As the Jewish High Holy Days approach and with Israels COVID-19 outbreak still not under control, synagogues around the country are now planning for the spiritual high-point of the Jewish calendar at a time when the number of people who can attend services is going to be severely limited.The High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest and most spiritually significant time of the Jewish year, characterized by lengthy prayer services in synagogues attended by the biggest crowds of the year, including those who do frequently attend services.But with the maximum number of people in an indoor space currently limited to 20, and only 30 in an outdoors space, prayer services during the upcoming holidays are going to look very different than usual.And further complicating matters is the uncertainty about what kind of restrictions will be in place when the High Holy Days finally arrive.The government has been trying to avoid a total shutdown of the economy for some time, but if cases do not decline sufficiently, and if the government fears a spike in infections due to social mingling during the holidays, it is conceivable that more stringent social distancing measures may be put in place.Despite these concerns, synagogues across the denominational spectrum are still working hard to have plans in place for prayer services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.Gary Zentner, chairman of the board of the prominent Orthodox Ramban synagogue in Jerusalems Greek Colony neighborhood, said that the synagogue was preparing for one minyan in its main prayer hall, and another outside in its courtyard.But during a regular year, some 300 to 400 men and women participate in its High Holiday services, so other solutions are being sought, including small services in the gardens and courtyards of various members.The synagogue will arrange people to lead the services, read from the Torah, provide Torah scrolls, blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and any other requirements each service may have.One concern for Ramban is its financial model, which is based on charging for seats in the synagogue over the High Holy Days, fees which are used to pay for the rabbi and other services year round.The synagogue is leaving the fees as they were for the moment and hoping that its committed members will pay regardless of the inability to hold normal services.At the same time, Zentner says Ramban has been ramping up activities such as online study sessions and lessons, garden meetings and other events, as well collaborations with other synagogues, to continue to provide members with quality services.Rabbi David Arias, head of the Masorti (Conservative) Congregation Moriah synagogue in Haifa, said that there, too, numerous activities are being prepared for the upcoming Elul month, the 30 days before the High Holy Days, which are themselves a period of introspection and heightened spiritual activity.Various digital initiatives are being prepared for the month, including daily introspection activities, while online classes to prepare congregants for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services both in synagogue and at home, if it comes to that, are being offered.Congregation Moriah will also be splitting up into smaller prayer services for the holidays, since the size of its services can swell to 400 worshipers at peak times over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Arias said.The synagogue has garden space where some services can be held, while others will be held in other available gardens and members private homes, in accordance with government regulations.The rabbi said that there are plenty of people in his community who are able to lead prayer services, read from the Torah and blow the shofar, so that this is not a limiting factor on the number of different services that can be formed.The synagogue will also be putting on some online prayer services accessible via video conferencing programs, but only before the beginning and after the end of the holiday so as not to violate traditional Jewish law.Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, says that preparations in Reform synagogues for the upcoming holidays are also in full swing.All Reform synagogues will be putting on video conferencing prayer services and activities over the holidays themselves, something which Orthodox and Masorti communities will not do due to restrictions of traditional Jewish law.Physical services will also go ahead in accordance with, and dependent on, government instructions.Kariv said that although the COVID-19 crisis has exacted a price on communities and their ability to promote spirituality and a community spirit, there are, nevertheless, opportunities to reach out to new audiences, especially in online formats.The Reform Movement is preparing an array of digital materials for the holidays, including audio and video resources, holiday texts, lessons and more, and hopes to reach half a million Israelis with these resources.We do have an advantage over the Orthodox and Masorti in reaching out digitally because we do these activities on the holidays themselves, and many people do feel that online services can be more accessible, so we plan to take advantage of this, he said. There is a big segment of the population who want religious content over the holidays and our goal is to provide it regardless of the circumstances.Arias concurred with this sentiment, adding that despite the challenging circumstances, and the restrictions for many from actually attending synagogue, the High Holy Days this year could be as meaningful and impactful as ever.The community is an extension of home, and we want people this year to take their Judaism home, said the rabbi. The coronavirus taught us that people can have Jewish life, pray, and observe the holidays at home as well as in synagogue, and we want to ensure that people have a spiritual experience whether at home or in the synagogue.

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Synagogues adapting for High Holy Days in the era of COVID-19 - The Jerusalem Post

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