For weeks, months, leaders of Jewish Congregations have struggled to find a way to deliver meaningful and spiritual services on the holiest of Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Each Congregation, including many in Rhode Island, has tried to strike the right balance between safety and spirituality.
Congregation leaders have not only been developing specific COVID precautions for the high holidays but also safeguards against anti-Semitic acts, punctuated in 2018 with the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Before COVID, Congregations, faced with anti-Semitic threats, were … and still are … making sure that their facilities are safe from such incidents. Now, they have added several precautions because of COVID concerns, ranging from a full shutdown of in-person services to a hybrid approach, with services held in-person and streaming and zoom.
For the most part, Congregations statewide are requiring Congregants to be vaccinated or show proof of a COVID test within 72 hours of attending in-person services, and masking during the service. Additionally, attendance is reduced, with additional spacing and families being asked to sit in pods with their own families. Some Congregations are requiring advanced reservations to attend services.
In some instances, Congregations are making use of outdoor space. Congregation Beth Shalom, on its website, said that all High Holiday services will be held outdoors, with only the unvaccinated required to be masked. From its website, it appears that Temple Beth El in Providence is holding all virtual services, with instructions on how to connect on its website. United Brothers Synagogue in Bristol is also not holding in-person services but will be streaming services instead.
In Newport, Touro Synagogue, home to Congregation Jo-huat Israel, has “suspended” services “until further notice,” due to COVID, according to its website. Middletown’s Temple Shalom is holding in-person services.
For those with no local connection, the website, My Jewish Learning (email@example.com) has a list of Congregations that are streaming services and are free for anyone who wishes to view.
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are the holiest of Jewish holidays, embracing the concepts of renewal, forgiveness, freedom and joy. Rosh Hashana, celebrated on Tuesday and Wednesday (actually begins Monday at sundown and concludes Wednesday at sundown), is referred to as the Jewish New Year, not replete with fireworks and champaign, but rather with introspection and prayer.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, involves repentance and forgiveness.