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Asking the Clergy: How will you celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days?

From left, Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Congregation Simchat

From left, Rabbi Jay Weinstein of Congregation Simchat HaLev, Syosset, Rabbi Rafi Rank of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset and Rabbi Anchelle Perl of Chabad of Mineola. Credit: Composite photo: Howard Schnapp; left, Ellen Joan Rank and Danielle Silverman

The Jewish High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 18 through 20) and end with Yom Kippur (Sept. 27 and 28), will be celebrated differently this year than ever before. This week’s clergy discuss how they will preserve traditions safely, with online services in a virtual sanctuary or social distancing in the synagogue.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl

Director, Chabad of Mineola

The key to success this year is to enter the High Holy Days with an attitude of hope and faith.

With the health guidelines and limited room capacity, we had to scrap, sadly, our long-standing open-door policy and insist on advance seat reservations. To afford maximum participation, we are also offering two options for both days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: a traditional service from 7 to 11 a.m. and a second, abbreviated service from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The only concern voiced by the congregation is, if I am giving a sermon at each service, which one will have the better jokes? I reassured everyone they needn’t worry as I am opting to wear a muzzle over my mask! In the long run, all these accommodations will help us appreciate the holy days and never take them for granted. Change brings excitement, anticipation and especially the awareness of caring for one another’s health. It’s really a great way to start the New Year.

For those staying at home, we will be providing specially printed High Holy Days prayer books with insights and explanations. We’ll also include delicious honey cake to be enjoyed at home.

Rabbi Rafi Rank

Midway Jewish Center, Syosset

At a time when we typically examine our lives, in light of our sins and vulnerabilities, the coronavirus will definitely have made these Days of Awe awesome indeed.

Many of us enter this season having lost loved ones, having experienced COVID firsthand, having become tutors to our children, or having waited for food supplies from a local pantry. Others of us, furloughed or fired, have had time to reassess our family relations and career paths, our passions, proclivities and prejudices. Many have asked if all this is some grand test of faith by God or punishment for sins that we are all too familiar with — ingratitude, complacency, arrogance or greed.

As we sit 6 feet apart in oddly empty synagogues, in outdoor tents or in living rooms and dens watching a streamed service, the message will be: Life is exceedingly fragile. Every second of our lives is a most precious gift of God, so live it with the moral rectitude that God demands, and with the kindness to others that God’s children deserve.

How will the holidays be different? They will be more powerful than ever because of the lessons the coronavirus leaves in its terrible wake.

Rabbi Jay Weinstein

Congregation Simchat HaLev, Syosset

This year will look different. Congregants will not be gathering in the synagogue seat that they usually sit in. The hundreds that usually come together to reflect, pray and work on their soul will do so digitally.

As we ask for a sweet new year, for forgiveness and to be sealed in the book of life, we won’t be face-to-face to embrace one another with a hug or even a handshake, but we will be connected in community via Zoom and Facebook. Uncertainty and feeling overwhelmed is the new reality. The truth is, like our congregants, we want to be in our synagogue, too, and until all of us can gather together safely, the virtual sanctuary that we have created will be our synagogue.

Like other congregations, we have found new ways to reach our congregants. We will infuse touchstones of normalcy and meaning. Our connections will be engaging and creative, with music that will nourish and enliven the soul. This year we are bringing the High Holy Days to the homes of our synagogue families fueled by love, sacredness and connection. The seats in our building will be empty, the hearts of our congregants will be full.

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