Synagogues alter Rosh Hashanah plans due to COVID-19 pandemic

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Thursday, September 17, 2020
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Synagogues are adjusting their plans for the upcoming High Holy Days, in an effort to balance safety and long-held traditions.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Synagogues are adjusting their plans for the upcoming High Holy Days in an effort to balance safety and long-held traditions.

"It's unexpected, but we've been preparing for a while," said Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh.

While they will offer socially-distanced in-person services, they are also streaming online and coming up with creative ways to connect with people who are unable to attend or uncomfortable doing so.

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"We're going to go around to four different lakes in Wake County, in Raleigh and Cary, and actually blow the shofar (and give people) the chance to hear the blast in person," said Solomon.

Synagogue leaders have also had to alter their plans to make them more accessible and easier to digest via a screen, though they explained why they also wanted to add an in-person element.

"There's such a yearning to come together and particularly on the High Holy Days, which is like a homecoming experience in the Jewish community. And you see together, you pray together and lift up. There are still people for their own health and their soul they want to feel each other's presence," Solomon said.

Rabbi Zalman Bluming, the director of Chabad of Durham-Chapel Hill, agreed with the sentiment of coming together.

"I think what's really unique this year for most Jews is that synagogues have gone beyond walls and will be going into the sanctuary of people's homes," Bluming said.

His chabad works with hundreds of local college students, many of whom are unable to travel home for the holidays and have endured a markedly abnormal semester at their respective schools.

"We've done a lot of classes and workshops to help people prepare to be the leader in their home for the holidays," said Bluming.

Bluming said they will set up a canopy outside, with people more than six feet apart, masks required, hand sanitizer available, and certain customs, such as the kissing of the Torah, skipped. They will also offer scaled-down, shorter programs featuring the blowing of the shofar.

"Certain things just can't be Zoomed. That connection that you need with your community and with your faith especially during these times are more vital than ever before. And we've been doing everything that we can student engage and connect with it," said Bluming.

Both Solomon and Bluming added they have provided gift bags to help people celebrate safely at home.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins Friday at sunset, and is the beginning of the High Holy Days in the religion.