Over these past difficult months, as we have experimented with and learned so much about how to be a synagogue in this moment of crisis and virtual connection, many of you have asked us a question we have also been thinking about deeply: What about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? After many hours of discussion and planning, we want to give you an update now on our plans for the High Holy Days.
Services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be held online. Reluctantly, we have determined that we cannot safely hold High Holy Day services in person. Instead, we are hard at work figuring out how to offer services online that can capture the beauty, warmth, and power of what we experience when we gather in person. We’ll be able to share a full schedule with more information in mid-August, but here is a sampling of what we’re working on:
▪ Abbreviated online services featuring highlights from the liturgy
▪ Prerecorded video segments that allow us to showcase the full beauty of the music
▪ An opportunity to hear shofar blown in person with social distancing, or outside your home for those who are high risk or who are quarantining
▪ Opportunities for online small group discussion, including new Sh’ma groups that will meet several times leading up to Rosh Hashanah for those looking for deeper connection and reflection
▪ Guided resources for individual reflection and spiritual practice
▪ Creative experiences including a Rosh Hashanah seder and a scavenger hunt
▪ Special resources for families, children, and teens
▪ Online learning opportunities organized collaboratively with the wider Philadelphia Jewish community
▪ Social justice and tzedakah (charity) opportunities
▪ Virtual Yizkor, including a special digital version of the Yikzkor (memorial) book
We hope this list gives you a sense that while we are so disappointed not to be able to gather in our sanctuary for the High Holy Days this year, we are also excited to welcome the new year in new creative ways that connect us to tradition while meeting the needs of this unique time.
Wait?! Why can’t we do services as usual but just with social distancing?
While many in-person activities are resuming, this chart illustrates why worship services are especially high risk. The four main risk factors for COVID spread – large crowds, being indoors, being together for a sustained period of time, and crucially, singing together – strike us as more or less a description of our regular High Holy Day services. We considered whether we could sufficiently mitigate the risk by limiting the number of people in the room, holding services outdoors, or holding very abbreviated services, but the multiple risk factors make it difficult to come up with any safe scenario that would allow us to serve the entire congregation. What we do believe we can offer is an opportunity to hear the shofar outdoors, and we will have more information about that opportunity in the coming weeks. We reached this decision after hours of consultation with clergy and synagogue leaders around the country, two focus groups of Beth David members, and a taskforce of physicians from our own congregation that included two infectious disease specialists, a pediatrician, an internist, and a cardiologist.
Sh’ma Groups? What’s that?
We’re so glad you asked! Sh’ma groups are the small groups we have started organizing to foster deeper connections, and help our members get to know each other and explore shared interests. During this time of isolation, we hope you’ll consider joining a virtual Sh’ma group as part of your High Holy Day experience. The groups will meet online three times in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, as well as during the High Holy Days, for peer-led honest conversation and connection about the issues we’re wrestling with most during this time of upheaval. We think that joining a Sh’ma group will enhance the virtual High Holy Day experience. Please fill out this form to let us know if you’re interested in participating, joining our group of volunteer facilitators, or learning more!
Shofar! I’ve always wished I could do that!
We were hoping you would say that! We are committed to making sure everybody in our community can hear shofar in person this year, even older people and those who are quarantining, but we need more shofar blowers to make that happen. We’ll teach you how to play and help you get a shofar – please fill out this form to let us know if you’re interested. If you’ve ever played a brass instrument, it will be especially easy for you to learn.
How else can I get involved?
Would you like to be part of a virtual choir? Read Torah or participate in services? Help us plan programming for children or teens? Help distribute apples and honey? We’ll need lots of help – please fill out this form to let us know you’re interested in being involved. And expect to hear from us throughout the summer with requests to share videos, stories, and photos that will be part of the High Holy Day experience.
Can I invite my friends and relatives? What does all of this cost?
We are committed to making our High Holy Day services accessible to all who want to participate, and we are committed to making sure that not a single family leaves us this year because of financial pressure. Even though we can’t gather as usual this year, the sacred work of our synagogue – building community, supporting those in need, and pointing the way to hope and to a better world – has never been more urgent. Our online offerings will be open to non-members, and we will not be formally selling guest tickets, so we hope you will invite your friends and family to join you. But of course, this crisis is a tremendous financial challenge for Beth David just as it is for every nonprofit, and we need your support. In normal years, counting on our members to remit 25% of their annual commitments by Rosh Hashanah, and generating revenue from guest tickets, is part of what keeps us on sound financial footing. In this extraordinary year, we will ask you to fulfill your 25% by the usual deadline and to consider making a contribution in lieu of buying guest tickets. If your finances are uncertain this year, as they are for so many people, please don’t even think about leaving – just reach out to Jill confidentially. On the other hand, if you have the ability to contribute at a more generous level, we need your partnership to make sure Beth David can support our whole community through this crisis.
“The old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy – הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש – ha-yashan yitchadeish, v’ha-chadash yitkadeish.” We are so grateful to be part of this sacred community with you, even – or perhaps especially – in these trying times. We look forward to hearing from you, and we look forward to welcoming the new year with you soon.
Lisa Miller, President
Rabbi Beth Kalisch
Cantor Lauren Goodlev
Jill Cooper, Executive Director