By Tzemach Feller(Chabad.org) As the 2021 High Holidays approach and the delta variant of the coronavirus creates a new time of uncertainty, one sure constant will be the availability of safe High Holiday services at Chabad-Lubavitch centers across the globe. As they have throughout the ups and downs of the global pandemic, Chabad emissaries are working to ensure that Jewish people everywhere have the wherewithal to live and celebrate Jewishly.
Living up to their mandate to reach out to Jews wherever they may find themselves has forced them to get creative with the approach of Rosh Hashanah 5782, which begins on Monday night, Sept. 6, and concludes on Wednesday night, Sept. 8., and Yom Kippur, which begins at sunset on Wednesday night, Sept. 15, and concludes on Thursday night, Sept. 16.
In Mesa, Arizona, the rise in Covid cases has meant thinking outside the box for Rabbi Laib and Gitty Blotner, co-directors of Chabad of Mesa, and in doing so, they got an indirect assist from a company that made its bones thinking differently. When the rabbi saw a 4,000-square-foot retail space that had previously housed an Apple Store sitting dormant in the city center, it got him to “think different.” With outdoor services this time of year unbearable in the Arizona heat, the vacant space would be perfect for a comfortable, safe and cool socially-distanced Rosh Hashanah service.
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And so a holy ark has replaced the flatscreens that had formerly occupied the walls, while a bimah takes the place of the sleek tables that had displayed Macs and iPhones, allowing Mesa’s Jewish community to comfortably and safely celebrate the New Year. “Last year we had more people on Rosh Hashanah than we ever did before, because of the social distancing we put in place,” said Blotner. “We anticipate the same reaction this year.”
The creative solution Chabad of Mesa found is being echoed around the world as Chabad centers prepare to welcome Jewish people to synagogue services, and to bring the services to them if they can’t make it. The effort is truly a global one: Chabad-Lubavitch is the largest Jewish organization in the world, with 3,500 educational, religious and social service institutions in more than 100 countries and territories. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2020 Portrait of Jewish Americans, two-in-five Jewish adults, some 38% of American Jews or 2.2 million people, report having some interaction with Chabad. It’s a level of engagement that extends to Jewish communities large and small around the world.
Preparations in High-Gear Worldwide
Last year, with the pandemic raging, millions heard the shofar in public places as outdoor events were—in many instances—the only safe way to observe the holiday. While bringing the shofar to people who wouldn’t be hearing it in synagogue is nothing new for Chabad emissaries—the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, launched his Shofar Campaign back in 1953 (5714)—the scope of last year’s outdoor events was unprecedented. While for many hearing the shofar on the street came as a result of Covid restrictions—it’s a tradition that isn’t going anywhere.
In the United States, from San Francisco’s iconic Union Square and the Embarcadero to Lang Park in Laguna Beach, Calif.; and from Loring Park in Minneapolis, Minn., to Lafayette Square, across from the White House in Washington D.C., Chabad emissaries will sound the shofar in hundreds of public spaces from coast to coast, enabling countless individuals to safely usher in the new year with the ancient cry of the shofar.
Services will take place in all sorts of places and will take on many formats, but the common factor will remain the shofar. In Hewlett, N.Y., services will take place in an open-air roofed lot, while in Key West, Fla., the community will gather at Highway 1 to hear the shofar and perform the Tashlich ceremony at the Gulf of Mexico.
On the west bank of New York’s Hudson River, Chabad of the Nyacks will distribute Rosh Hashanah to-go packages to local residents. Similar kits will be distributed in Cranberry Township, Penn., Battersea, London, U.K., and in hundreds of other locations. In San Francisco, more than 250 complete Rosh Hashanah meals will be delivered to the doorsteps of the elderly and others in need.
The Chabad Center for Jewish Life in San Antonio, Texas, will hold services following careful guidelines they shared in a recent letter to the community. Among other things, they will be requiring the use of masks at all services and are highly encouraging everyone to vaccinate against Covid.
In the Canadian city of St. John’s, Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky, co-director of Chabad of Newfoundland, will be hosting a shofar-blowing ceremony on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, followed that evening by a communal holiday dinner.
Around the World
In the United Arab Emirates, Rosh Hashanah services on the first night of the holiday will take place in the ballroom at the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world — and at the community dinner, apples will be dipped into locally-made date syrup.
In Tel Aviv, Israel, a socially-distanced Shofar-blowing will take place at Bialik Square — one of thousands that will take place across the Holy Land, from Eilat in the south to Metullah in the north, as the country prepares to welcome the Shemitah year.
During the month of Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is customarily sounded each day. In the former Soviet Union, the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS used this time to highlight Jewish communities from Tallinn, Estonia; to Baku, Azerbaijan; to Birobidzhan, Russia, (where the official language is Yiddish) as rabbis from each community sounded the shofar in front of local landmarks and points of interest, bringing heightened awareness of the upcoming holiday.
In Thailand, gatherings of more than a few people are outlawed, but Chabad of Thailand will still ensure that the community can safely experience Rosh Hashanah, as the Shofar will be sounded in a park, while Rosh Hashanah-to-go packages will be delivered to many local residents.
In Chengdu, China, Chabad hosted a Shofar Factory, enabling adults and children alike to craft — and take home — their very own Shofar. Coupled with some expert Shofar-sounding tutelage — which can be found on Chabad.org — the event will enable many to observe this mitzvah.
In Tokyo, services and a Rosh Hashanah meal will take place in the venerable Tokyo American Club, which was founded in 1928, while in Taipei, Taiwan, Rosh Hashanah services will take place at Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel — the tallest hotel in the city — whose large space will enable social distancing.
In Zurich, Switzerland, Rosh Hashanah services and shofar sounding will be followed by an outdoor lunch buffet, in compliance with the local health regulations. In Limassol, Cyprus, multiple outdoor Shofar blowings will take place and locals will be offered a taste of the holidays including honey cake, apples and honey and a printed holiday guide.
In Central London, UK, Rabbi Moshe Adler of Chabad of Battersea will sound the Shofar at the iconic London Eye, while in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, hundreds are expected to hear the shofar and perform the Tashlich ceremony at the nearby Seine River.
In Johannesburg, South Africa, outdoor Shofar soundings, masked and distanced indoor events and Rosh Hashanah-at-home kits will cater to all, while in Sydney, Australia, as the country faces some of the most severe Covid restrictions anywhere, local synagogues have united to provide DIY holiday resources and to liaise with the government to enable shofar blowings to take place.
As the leaders of Sydney’s synagogues told congregants in a video message, this year’s High Holidays will not be ordinary. But we can make them extraordinary. Around the world, Chabad centers will be doing just that.
A Wealth of Online Resources
Once again this year, Chabad.org is providing a variety of resources to help its readers find High Holiday services in their communities, to assist those who are unable to attend services outside their homes and to otherwise provide inspirational material for the holidays to be printed out before the holidays begin.
To ensure that every Jew can participate in High Holiday services, wherever and however they may be, Chabad.org’s global database comprises a broad catalog of services being offered by Chabad centers around the world, in addition to its wealth of inspiration and information about the holidays, including a printable Rosh Hashanah prayer booklet. Every year the site hosts the largest directory of free High Holiday services around the world. This year, it won’t just be free synagogue services; it will once again be the largest directory of all services including for people who can’t make it to synagogue for traditional full-length prayers.
A Good and Sweet New Year
As he did every year, prior to Rosh Hashanah of 1962 the Rebbe wrote a public letter to the entire Jewish people. In that year’s letter the Rebbe noted some of the difficulties of the preceding year. “Mounting tension and anxiety, a quickening of the race for arms supremacy, and the general confusion and vacillation in international relations, have reached new heights in the past year,” he wrote. The Jewish people in particular had “witnessed the insecurity of some Jewish communities in various parts of the world.”
The dawn of the new year, the Rebbe continued, was a time to ask one’s self: “What can I do to improve and secure the situation in the coming year? What can I do for my fellow, for myself, for my people, and for the world at large?”
Rosh Hashanah provides the answer, and an opportunity. Since every Jew is a part of the Jewish people as a whole, by each individual personally crowning G‑d as King they join with their brethren in coronating Him as King of the entire universe. This is done through Rosh Hashanah’s call for teshuvah, to return; tefillah, prayer; and tzedakah, charity.
“Teshuvah is the firm resolution to return to our King, with sincere contrition for past disobedience and a resolute determination for a better life in the future,” the Rebbe wrote. “And it must express itself in both Tefilah, the area of duty towards G‑d, and Tzedakah—in interhuman relations.”
Combined, this would grant each individual, the Jewish people as a whole and the world at large, a good and sweet new year.