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High Holy Days Mostly on Zoom

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 12:03
A stained glass window at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor
Durell Godfrey

This has been a summer of consternation and intense debate for Jewish communities worldwide. How to bring people together for the High Holy Days, which begin on the evening of Friday, Sept. 18, while keeping them safely apart in the midst of a pandemic? On the South Fork, with a single exception, the answer, in the main, was Zoom.

At the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, officials spent many hours in meetings before concluding that a huge tent, larger by far than the big one used in years past but necessary for social distancing, could not be the solution. Consultants cautioned that there could be no singing, which can spread viral droplets through the air, and no "bidirectional" traffic, meaning, for example, that people could not pass each other coming in and out or on the way to the bathroom. Those two strictures alone were enough to put an end to the tent.

Rabbi Joshua Franklin and Cantor-Rabbi Debra Stein will begin the celebration of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, with a one-hour in-person service at Main Beach in East Hampton from 6 to 7 p.m. A virtual service from the sanctuary will follow at 8. The next day, Sept. 19, there will be a family service on the center's front lawn from 3 to 3:45, and a shofar-blowing service at 6, again on Main Beach. Morning services that day will be virtual.

On Sept. 20, a short second-day service will take place in person, again on the front lawn, from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

At Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, all services will be online only. "After considering the risks involved, we concluded that the [preservation of life] cannot be circumvented," Rabbi Dan Geffen wrote to congregants. "We realize this news may be a relief to some, but a disappointment to others. Nevertheless, we did what we felt was in accord with the core values of our temple and the principles of Judaism. . . ." Services will be condensed, he said, with some parts of the liturgy left out as a result, "but the beautiful music of the High Holy Days and the sounds of the shofar blast" will be heard as always.

In Bridgehampton, services at the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, led by Rabbis Jan Uhrbach and Michael Boino, will be shorter, and entirely virtual except for the shofar-blowing, which will happen at the beach on the afternoon of Sept. 20. Services will take place throughout the holiday weekend, mornings and afternoons.

Speaking of the decision to conduct services via Zoom, Rabbi Uhrbach explained that "some of our members are unable to be in the Hamptons because Covid-19 has restricted their travel. Knowing that, we feel it is morally wrong and contrary to the purposes of communal prayer to create a service that would effectively exclude those members, or offer them a less compelling experience." On Zoom, she said, "We will be able to see each other's faces up close and without masks. We will be able to sing our hearts out. We will be able to celebrate and pray without anxiety and worry."

Chabad of the Hamptons on Woods Lane in East Hampton will be alone in conducting all of its holiday services live and in person. On Friday, Sept. 18, there will be two morning services, with a break in between to sanitize. From 8:30 to 11 the service will be "more fast-paced than usual because it will be fully in Hebrew, with no English explanations," said Goldie Baumgarten, co-director of the synagogue with her husband, Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten. The second service, somewhat shorter, will begin at 11:30 and run to about 1:15 p.m. Masks will be required and will be available.

People will sit separately except for families, and the cantor will sing, wearing a face shield for protection. On Sept. 20, Chabad will hold two shofar services at Town Pond, at 10:30 a.m. and again at 5 p.m., with the same morning services in between.

Preregistration is required everywhere, for reasons of security. Full holiday schedules, including Yom Kippur services the following week, can be found online on the various synagogues' websites.


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