By: Hellen Zaboulani
The high holidays are upon us, but the Covid-19 pandemic is still looming over us.
Rosh Hashana, which begins this year on Friday night and ends on Sunday after nightfall, is historically a high priority and high traffic time for shuls and synagogues of all religious levels. This year, however, with social distancing requirements the houses of worship will reluctantly refrain from filling to capacity, sacrificing for the safety of congregants.
As reported by the NY Post, at the West Side Sephardic Synagogue attendance will be limited to 60 people, as opposed to the 400 people that usually cram in for the high holidays. The five-hour service will also be shortened to limit the amount of time worshipers spend indoors. Everyone will be required to wear a mask, even the end shofar, lest any potential coronavirus germs escape, said Ari Afilalo, the president of the Upper West Side synagogue. “The most important goal for us is to do the holidays, be in person as much as we can, but minimize the risk to the greatest extent possible,” Afilalo said. Many Orthodox synagogues across the country will similarly limit the occupants for Rosh Hashana and also Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement with falls on Monday Sept. 28. This will leave many congregants without the option of joining the services.
Torah law dictates that the high holidays must be observed without the use of electronics, which will prohibit shuls from streaming services for virtual viewing. Some Reformed synagogues are foregoing the traditional services, opting to make services available online for the large numbers of congregants who usually fill the shuls on the high holidays. Some of the Reformed synagogues will offer a mix of in-person and virtual services. Temple Emanu-El, the massive Reform synagogue on Fifth Avenue, is accommodating only 100 people into the sanctuary, with preference given to those who were front line or essential workers during the pandemic, those who lost a loved one in the last year or those who had to cancel milestone events such as a bar mitzvah or the like.