How will Covid Change the Jewish High Holidays?
With the High Holidays coming up and numerous synagogues closed or limited in so many ways, many Jews are looking for new ways to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services as part of a community.
The dilemma? For more than a thousand years, it has been Jewish law that one must have a community, a ‘minyan’, for prayer. The definition of “minyan” was at one point 10 men, all having reached the age of 13. In modern times, depending on the synagogue, it can be 10 women, or any combination of men and women as well. Here’s the catch: they must share the same space. It can be inside or outside, in synagogue or in a home. The point is, prayer is a shared undertaking and experience; prayer is also about togetherness.
Many congregations, including traditional ones, have nimbly risen to the occasion with web technology. Even before Covid, many synagogues such as Central Synagogue in Manhattan, were already live streaming services for people who couldn’t make it to a synagogue. Live streamed holiday services are common now but if the congregation is not able to “tune in” as it were, at the appointed hour, they miss out.
Some smaller congregations are using web sharing and other technology for virtual face to face services – and solving this “minyan” issue in that way. But this is not an answer to a service with perhaps 500 or more people attending as they do during the High Holidays. Talk about meshuganeh! What’s a synagogue to do to adapt and give Jews a compelling and meaningful option to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services?
One small synagogue in Boynton Beach, Florida is heeding the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah who said “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people” and making his words come to life in the most modern of ways that I’m sure he never anticipated.
Rabbi Barry Silver, of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, was always an “out of the box” thinker. He summoned a team of leaders to put together High Holiday services in a radically new and different way: To create a service made of sacred art; blending the best from tradition infused with innovative music videos using new technology to meet the tests of these unprecedented times.
In addition to his calling as a Rabbi, he is also a civil rights/environmental attorney and a songwriter and performer. He is involved in anti-gun violence, human rights, racial harmony, and interfaith issues. He is listed in Who’s Who of American Law for outstanding contributions to the betterment of society. He has been featured on national television, partaking in vigorous political debates.
Rabbi Silver’s brand of “Cosmic Judaism”, based on rational thinking and science is a unique and modern way to look at the sacred mission of Jews in society. When asked why his congregation doesn’t have a building, he says “we have no edifice complex’. We can worship together by drawing on the same virtual experience. Uniting spirituality and science, Rabbi Silver says “blowing the shofar at the ocean as a call to action on climate change in the year 2020. This congregation is taking a stand and tying the High Holidays to this issue to atone for our mistreatment of the planet and move in a new direction.”
More than 100 different songs are performed over the two holidays by the three Cantors and Soloists. They are recording themselves live and adding video to their performances. Rabbi Silver introduces the prayers and many of the videos featuring imagery with sub-titles in English and Hebrew, so the worshiper can read or sing along. Professionals and volunteers alike are carefully stitching these together for a seamless experience that everyone can appreciate.
Dr. Robert Watson, author and editor of 36 books and appearing on CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News, The New York Times, BBC, USA Today, winner of many national and international awards will also be speaking and participating in discussion after Yom Kippur morning services. There will be an interactive interfaith, multi-cultural dialogue with local community leaders of different faiths, providing online viewers with a participative experience.
Another advantage of this is that the videos will be online forever, for whoever cannot pray at the appointed time, or wants to revisit the services at a later time.
Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor “from generation to generation” will be posting its High Holiday Service videos on their website www.ldorvador.org for anyone to watch for free. Here is a truly warm and generous gift for the Jewish community and all who wander and “wonder” about Jewish culture and worship.