Jewish organization prepares for High Holy Days amid coronavirus pandemic

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Jewish organization prepares for High Holy Days amid coronavirus pandemic

In Israel, where coronavirus infections has spiked as of late, organizations are moving towards prayer services that will be limited in size as well as scope in order to stymie the infection rate.

Jewish organizations around the world are preparing for High Holy Day services amid the ongoing uncertainty that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically in Israel, where coronavirus infections has spiked as of late, organizations are moving towards prayer services that will be limited in size as well as scope in order to stymie the infection rate.
In response to the restrictions placed upon services this year, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization and Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity – who have worked together for years to promote “community based high-holiday services that engage secular Israelis” – are planning to take the bulk of their services to outdoor public venues. They also organize Rosh Hashanah-related programs for young families celebrating the High Holy Days together.
Illustrative photo

“This year is defined by a massive challenge, and we recognize and respect that people are afraid to come out for lengthy and crowded services,” said Tzohar founder and chair Rabbi David Stav. “Our goal, as always, is to make the services as accessible as possible and ensure that this time will be meaningful both for more observant and secular communities, for whom these days are a particularly important spiritual highlight of the year.”

The “Shofar in the Park” initiative organized under the auspices of the two organizations, which has been ongoing for the past six years, has already registered 230 locations for shofar blasts to be heard around the country.
Shofar in the park
Illustrative photo

“The ‘Shofar in the Park’ initiative will enable hundreds of thousands of Israelis from all over the country to hear shofar blasts in the public sphere while safeguarding their health and the health of others,” said Ohr Torah Stone president and rosh yeshiva Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander. “In particular now, during this time of pandemic, as there is so much strife and divisiveness between us, it’s more important than ever to make connections between the various groups in Israeli society against the backdrop of the symbols that unite us. May this year bring health, unity, connection and understanding between us all.”

For those opting to stay at home, or running private smaller outdoor services, Ohr Torah Stone released an “abridged” High Holy Day prayer book (machzor) to address the concerns of the community.The editors, who keep both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions, estimate they have “abridged the service to about 40% of the traditional service with an eye on preserving all elements of halachic Jewish law and without compromising on the spiritual and liturgical highlights.”
“Throughout Jewish history and tradition, the prayer service of the High Holy Days has been defined by a desire to connect between the Jewish people and God,” said Brander. “But when circumstance makes this challenging, like in times of pandemic or in certain protocols adopted for our IDF soldiers, Jewish law demands from us to condense the service so as to prioritize health and safety while focusing on the core themes of the prayer service.”
“On Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days, our hope is that people will see this as a chance invite neighbors and friends who might not typically participate in communal prayers and ensure that we are making the best and most meaningful time out of a deeply challenging situation,” said Stav.
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