Rosh Hashana in the Pandemic: Rabbis, Cantors and Video Crews

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Rosh Hashana, it’s written, begins on Friday night, the primary day of the holy month of Tishrei. However on the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, like many different congregations, preparations for this 12 months’s Excessive Holy Days providers started far earlier, and had been vastly totally different.

With the coronavirus pushing providers on-line, the synagogue needed to rent a video and sound crew, prerecord some elements of the service and prepare for a number of clergy members to steer the worship dwell, every beaming in from a special location, like information reporters protecting a hurricane.

“I feel like I have learned how to be a 1950s live television producer,” mentioned Serge Lippe, the senior rabbi of the synagogue, a reform congregation. “I have been running a show and producing cuts and all kinds of things I have never had to think about.”

The primary Jewish Excessive Holy Days of the coronavirus period can be celebrated this weekend, and for synagogues throughout New York the training curve has been steep.

Many synagogues have livestreamed weekly providers through the pandemic, however turning the vacations — which embody Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New 12 months — into on-line celebrations is extra sophisticated than simply pointing a digital camera on the rabbi and logging on to Zoom.

The coronavirus has profoundly disrupted spiritual life by turning worship providers into doubtlessly lethal super-spreader occasions. And it has deeply affected the Jewish neighborhood in New York, arriving on the eve of one other vacation, Purim, and exacting a heavy toll among Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and elsewhere.

For a lot of Jewish communities, the specter of the virus has turned Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which begins on the evening of Sept. 27, into online-only occasions. However that excludes the Orthodox, who’re taught to eschew know-how on the Sabbath and who plan in-person celebrations of the Excessive Holy Days.

For them, the vacations can be celebrated in synagogues, parking tons and out of doors tents with as many pandemic precautions as potential, mentioned Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Chabad motion, which is without doubt one of the largest Jewish organizations on this planet.

Companies within the New York space will restrict the variety of folks in attendance, mandate social distancing and face masks and — in at the least one synagogue on Lengthy Island — erect a sheet of plexiglass to separate the rabbi and worshipers, he mentioned.

However not each Orthodox group is being as cautious. Final weekend, the Satmar Hasidic motion posted photos from an official Twitter account that showed thousands of worshipers standing shoulder to shoulder inside a synagogue in Orange County.

The photographs raised concern concerning the unfold of the virus amongst Hasidic Jews, whose neighborhood was exhausting hit by the pandemic within the spring amid quite a few examples at funerals and faculties the place social distancing protocols weren’t noticed.

In Brooklyn, Rabbi Lippe mentioned, the “synergies” of a traditional celebration, which could usually draw 1,000 folks to his congregation, could also be absent this 12 months, however the religious coronary heart of the vacation will stay.

“We know there will be bloops and blunders along the way, but the High Holy Days are not supposed to be a polished Hollywood production,” he mentioned. “They are a very human effort that recognizes our imperfections, and many of those imperfections will be on display as we make this effort to worship together remotely.”

The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue is way from alone.

Central Synagogue in Manhattan started planning its vacation providers within the spring, mentioned its senior rabbi, Angela Buchdahl. As an alternative of dwelling on all of the issues they might not do, she mentioned, they determined to give attention to the artistic alternatives a digital celebration may present.

That features a dance efficiency deliberate for Yom Kippur and a Excessive Holy Days field despatched to worshipers that was crammed with gadgets to assist them create a sanctuary at residence, together with a miniature ark designed by an Israeli artist.

Their on-line service may even embody the prerecorded blowing of a shofar, or ram’s horn trumpet, that was utilized in 1944 by Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz to welcome the brand new 12 months. The horn is currently on display on the Museum of Jewish Heritage close to Battery Park in Manhattan.

“For us to be able to use this symbol of resilience and strength, especially in a year like this, feels particularly powerful,” she mentioned.

Romemu, a synagogue on the Higher West Aspect of Manhattan, was one of many first Jewish congregations in New York to close down when the coronavirus swept by means of the town in March. It has additionally livestreamed its Shabbat providers for roughly a decade, mentioned Jeff Cahn, its govt director.

However placing collectively an online-only model of Judaism’s most sacred celebrations has nonetheless been a problem, he mentioned. Their vacation objective has been to place every little thing they’ve realized from the final six months of on-line Shabbats to good use, he mentioned.

“This has all been an interesting thing for synagogues, which are not used to thinking like digital media companies,” mentioned Mr. Cahn. “In some ways, we used to be a theater company with live stage performances every week, but now we are a TV company.”

Within the weeks main as much as Rosh Hashana, Romemu additionally despatched congregants a vacation equipment they might use to create a sacred house at residence. It included a bandanna that may double as an altar cowl or a face masks, Mr. Cahn mentioned.

Its service will embody a “prayer team” that will lead worship while standing at socially distanced intervals on a grassy lawn, he said, as well as musicians and a zoom choir with singers logging on from New York, California and Israel.

“In the early days of TV, they just took a stage production and got a wide lens and filmed it and that is kind of how we have been doing live streams,” he mentioned. “Now we are thinking, ‘OK, this is TV, how do we make this have impact?’”

However, Mr. Cahn mentioned, he had begun to wonder if placing on a stunning on-line ceremony would possibly create a brand new set of religious issues. After months caught at residence binge watching Netflix, at what level does a web based occasion simply grow to be one other type of leisure?

“This is not a spectator experience where people come to watch other people pray or to watch the rabbi pray,” Mr. Cahn mentioned of his congregation’s in-person providers, that are recognized for his or her power. “Now that has been removed and the danger is that it all becomes another TV show — you sit on the couch and kick your feet up and just watch the prayers.”

However that’s not a priority felt by many within the metropolis’s Orthodox communities, whose avoidance of know-how on the Sabbath and Excessive Holy Days is a part of a dedication to extra conventional interpretations of spiritual regulation.

For individuals who are unable to attend an in-person service, Rabbi Seligson mentioned, Chabad had additionally printed a downloadable information — in partnership with a publishing firm, Kehot Publication Society — on learn how to have a good time Rosh Hashana at residence.

Shofars may even be blown in parks and on road corners throughout the town by volunteers as a part of a longstanding drive, which pulls folks from all denominations of Judaism, to make the custom accessible exterior the partitions of a synagogue, he mentioned.

“Judaism is not a spectator faith; it is not one that you watch, it is one that you experience,” Rabbi Seligson mentioned. “People want to be in some kind of sacred environment.”

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