Jewish New Year celebrations move outdoors, online as Delta variant spreads

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As sundown brings the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, many in the community are disappointed to begin the High Holidays with virtual and outdoor services for the second year.

"Being a rabbi, the most important thing is finding good jokes, but this year, there have been no rabbis, priests or ministers walking into a bar," joked Rabbi Zalmy Dubinsky, director of Chabad Young Professionals Raleigh.

The rapid spread of the Delta variant forced Dubinsky and his community, co-led by his wife, Mushka Dubinsky, to pivot services at the last minute from an indoor venue to an outdoor space.

"Somebody put it as we were in the ninth inning of a baseball game and then someone told us it's a double-header," Dubinksy said. "There was no question in our mind that we were going to balance safety without compromising the experience of Rosh Hashanah."

That emphasis on safety is imperative for the Jewish community. One of the guiding principles of Jewish law is "pikuach nefesh," or the idea that human life is more valuable than anything else, and the preservation of life overrides any other commandment.

"The Talmud says that one who saves a life has saved an entire world, that each life is a world unto itself and life is precious and of course irreplaceable," Dubinsky said.

Though no small feat to change plans on a dime, Dubinsky said the experience was humbling and reminded him of the purpose of the holiday.

"It also makes us realize that we're very vulnerable sometimes. We don't realize how vulnerable or not in control we are," he said.

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Though having services outdoors is more "new normal" than traditional, Dubinsky said his community shared powerful lessons after last year's outdoor Torah reading.

"There was something that was very beautiful that we experienced last year, and that was everyone coming together and realizing that it was not the ideal, but we're so committed to our relationship with G-d* that we're going to make this happen no matter what," he said.

Rosh Hashanah, Dubinsky said, is a time to strengthen ties to faith, community and the world.

"It's more about a reunion of us as people, children coming home to their father in Heaven," he said.

But he added that a common misconception is that Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the Earth on the first day. Instead, Dubinsky said the holiday honors the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day. And therein lies another powerful message.

"It highlights the power of the individual, all it takes is one person to impact the world in a positive way," Dubinsky said. "Perhaps sometimes we need to think global, but we act very local. And it's our local change that creates global change, and that's what Rosh Hashanah reminds us of."

Dubinsky hopes that after a year without much joy, that a safe and happy Rosh Hashanah will bring in a sweet 5782.

As we say, shanah tovah and chag sameach!

*In this story, the name of the Lord is spelled incompletely to honor the religious practices of the reporter. You can learn more here.
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