The beginning of sacred Jewish holidays has traditionally meant that hundreds of people gather in a synagogue to celebrate the New Year with prayer and singing.
High Holidays a time for Jewish community in Michigan to reflect amid pandemic https://t.co/BL7Xg1slur
— Niraj Warikoo (@nwarikoo) September 18, 2020
The Covid-19 has changed Jewish holidays.
Many synagogues have been moved to weekly services via Zoom to celebrate Sabbath. Now they’ve taken it a step further. Rabbis are turning to drones and drive-in services, cardboard parishioners like those found in baseball games, even honking horns by saving social distance.
Everything is happening as Jews across South Florida prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashaná, the New Year of the Hebrew calendar.
Sacred feasts mark the 10-day period between Rosh Hashaná and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where Jews reflect on the year that has passed and prepare to start the Jewish year of 5781 with a blur and new account. This year, Rosh Hashaná starts at sunset on Friday and ends on Sunday. Yom Kippur starts at sunset on September 27 and ends at sunset on September 28.
Festivities are a spiritual time of year for the Jewish faithful. But for synagogues, it’s also a time to attract new members and raise money.
While some rabbis will conduct services in person, others are looking for new ways to direct prayer at a time when many are reluctant to gather in large groups, even if it is for something as important as prayer and reflection during the most important dates of the Jewish calendar.
So synagogues are getting creative.
For example, as an alternative to the ancient ritual of throwing breadcrued crumbs into a stream of water, synagogues and organizations in South Miami-Dade have come together to organize the ceremony virtually, with the help of a drone.
An Adventure congregation brings the services of sacred days to the big screen and offers a self-cinema experience.
Others have created “productions,” promising streaming services with interactive options to make you feel “as normal as possible.”
“Why is this year different from all other years? We cannot, in conscience, simply offer services as we have in past years,” said Rabbi Rachel Greengrass of Temple Beth Am.
While in most Orthodox communities the most observant Jews refrain from using technology on the Sabbath and religious festivities, they will have socially est distanced in-person services, other congregations in South Florida are choosing to rely on the internet or using a hybrid approach to festivities.
Rabbi Fred Klein, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Rabbinical Association and director of Mishkan Miami, a spiritual support group, said the pandemic has challenged rabbis not to think about why things happen, but how people can respond.
“This is the situation we find ourselves in, how we can respond in the most powerful way to bring people closer to God, bring them closer to the community, give them a sense of purpose, resilience right now,” he said. “So while there are obstacles, there are also opportunities for rabbis to re-create and think about how they can connect.”
For Florida International University freshman Keren Szmuler, Jewish holidays have always been a “big problem” in her family. Assistance to services. Meeting with the family for lunch. See people you don’t see often. Connect.
“The services will be virtual this year, which will definitely be super interesting”, said the 20-year-old, who participates in FIU’s Hillel. “We’re still going to try to make it as special as possible and appreciate the importance of the holidays.”
A deeper spiritual connection
Even with the shift to virtual services or smaller meetings, the rabbis say they are feeling a more spiritual connection to the holiday.
“It’s a moment of humility and fear,” said Greengrass of Temple Beth Am. “The Covid has certainly put us in this mood. He asked us to reevalue how we are living. We are asked to let go of so many things while reminding us of what really matters.”
Jacob Solomon, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Miami, said it is important to note that while it is not possible for many to be together in person, no one should be lonely.
“Don’t let the fact that it will be different prevent you from finding a way to connect with the community, connect with synagogue worship, connect with each other during the holidays,” he said. “There are literally dozens of opportunities online for people to participate in the synagogue cult without leaving the safety of their homes“.