From backyard minyans to distanced dinners, Covid Rosh Hashanah will look and feel different

OUTSIDE%3A+Rosh+Hashanah+starts+tomorrow+night.+With+synagogues+closed%2C+many+Shalhevet+community+members+will+be+praying+in+socially+distanced+groups+outdoors.+

BP Graphic by Keira Beller

OUTSIDE: Rosh Hashanah starts tomorrow night. With synagogues closed, many Shalhevet community members will be praying in socially distanced groups outdoors.

By Olivia Fishman and Tehilla Fishman, 10th Grade

Shalhevet Dean of Students Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg thinks that it will be especially difficult to connect to God during the High Holidays this year.

“There is a certain mood and certain energy that happens in shul, where if you walk in and you are not prepared, you can go from a five to a 10 pretty quickly,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg.  

This year, no one will be going to shul — at least not to sit and stand and sing together in their usual buildings, and at least not for Rosh Hashanah.

“I think it’ll be much harder for everyone,” said Rabbi Schwarzberg.

With Covid-19 still spreading, members of the Shalhevet community are looking for a way to celebrate Rosh Hashanah — which starts this Friday night — while adhering to pandemic-related safety regulations set forth by the Los Angeles County Health Department and the state of California.

At the present time, Los Angeles County has a high threat level for Covid-19 and is only allowing religious ceremonies to take place outside with safety modifications, according to the official California State Government website. 

Shalhevet students belong to a variety of religious denominations and sub-groups that have different practices and customs, so one thing that actually will be like other years is that people will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah in different ways from one another. 

Some will be attending services on Zoom, and others will be participating in small outdoor minyanim. Other students will be davening by themselves at home.

Senior Joey Blumofe’s family will be hosting a socially distant minyan in his backyard for Rosh Hashanah where they are expecting 40 people to come and pray. (Photo by Joey Blumofe)

Like Rabbi Schwarzberg, some predicted it would be harder to experience the chag this year. But others thought it might be easier.

Junior Adina Kurzban said that getting closer to God may be easier this year because many people are scared for the future and a need to pray and reflect is comforting. 

“I’ve never been a really connected person,” said Adina. “But this year there’s a lot more to pray for.”

 

While synagogues’ physical doors must be closed because of the pandemic, outdoor, socially distanced prayer groups are allowed by the health department.  Some shuls are arranging such events in congregants’ backyards and encouraging members to sign up for a limited number of spaces.

Adina Kurzban will be attending an outdoor B’nai David minyan.  Senior Joey Blumofe and his family will be hosting one.“My family has been hosting our shul in our backyard,” said Joey, saying about 20 people have been present on a typical Shabbat.  For the High Holidays, he said, they’re setting up differently.

I’ve never been a really connected person, but this year there’s a lot more to pray for.”

— Adina Kurzban, 11th Grade

“We will be having around 40 people,” said Joey, who will be one of them.

Senior Jack Resin is hoping to attend an outdoor minyan with Mashgiach Ruchani and Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Yagil Tsaidi. 

“I believe I am going to do teen minyan with Rabbi Tsaidi,” said Jack. “I think he’s hosting something in his backyard through Beth Jacob.”

Students whose families belong to Conservative synagogues have the option of following services online because those synagogues don’t forbid the use of technology on Shabbat or festivals.

Senior Jordan Simon, who attends Sinai Temple in Westwood, will be participating in live Rosh Hashanah services broadcast to his house.

“This year, Sinai is doing all the services on Zoom,” said Jordan. “Our rabbi said we’re one of the only shuls in LA that are doing it live instead of pre-recorded.”

Junior Henry Fried will be attending Beth Am’s outdoor service for the first day of chag and will Zoom in from home on the second day.

“My dad and I will be going to Beth Am for the outdoor socially distant option,” said Henry. “And then the other day, we will probably do it on Zoom because we aren’t allowed to go to shul both days.”

Sophomore Josh Askari will be davening from home with his family’s close friends and relatives.

“This year, we’re using a Sefer Torah and we’re going to have very close family and friends over,” said Josh, who said his family had bought the Torah for his bar mitzvah. “I’d rather be with [more of] my friends and family up close, but this is the next best thing.”

Sophomore Gabrielle Urman will not be participating in socially distant davening or online davening. Instead, she will be davening individually from her home.

“My family doesn’t feel comfortable going to minyans because we’re taking social distancing really seriously, so I’ll probably just daven at home,” Gabrielle said.

 

Praying is not the only thing students associate with Rosh Hashanah. Several students surveyed by the Boiling Point said they were going to miss relatives who won’t be able to join them this year — even if they only live as far away as the Valley.

Gabrielle Urman has hosted meals for past Rosh Hashanahs at her house for her cousins and grandparents, who visit her family yearly from the Valley and Arizona.

“I’m devastated that I won’t be able to see my good friends and extended family this year,” said Gabrielle. “They make the holidays feel special and it’s going to be super different without them.”

Junior Rayna Kent has had set meals with the same few families every year on Rosh Hashanah. This year, Rayna’s family will be hosting one meal, and for the other one, they will be going to their friends’ backyard. Each family will have its own table and the host will cook food for both families.

“It’s definitely weird, but I’m used to it already as we’ve been having people over for socially distanced meals,” said Rayna in an interview. “So, if that is how the High Holidays are going to work, my family is kind of used to it already.” 

Freshman Temma Kirshbaum and her family recently moved to Los Angeles from Irvine, Calif., and had been planning on returning to Irvine for the holidays. However, due to Covid-19, she does not know if that will be possible.

“It’s heartbreaking — I’ve lived there my whole life, so it’s definitely different,” said Temma. “But I think knowing that I’m going to a better school and having a better education makes it worth it.”

Mrs. Malkie Hametz, Mashgicha Ruchanit and Director of Chesed, said she was not planning on attending shul this year, but not because there was no place for her to go. She has two small children, and would need child care — something backyard minyans have not planned.

“I’ll probably be home with the kids,” said Mrs. Hametz. “My husband blows shofar, so we’ll probably just do it here.”

Mrs. Hametz is hoping that Beth Jacob will have babysitters at its backyard minyanim

“I actually spoke with the executive director the other day, and she was saying that they’re going to look into finding ways to maybe bring in babysitters or to potentially do small pods of babysitting,” Mrs. Hametz said. “That might be a way to help encourage people to go.”

 

Things will be different for everyone this Rosh Hashanah. But despite the uniqueness and challenges of Rosh Hashanah 5781,  many students have confidence that they will be able to feel close to God and to their community.

Freshman Zion Schlussel is one student who thinks davening will be easier. 

“I’m going to feel more connected on my own instead of in a big public space,” said Zion, “because everyone is going to be in their own area and focused on themselves.”

But like so much else about the pandemic, no one will really know what the Covid High Holidays were like until they’re over.

Junior Ella Toczek does not know what the holidays will bring, but knows that they will not be as festive as usual. 

“I really don’t know how the High Holidays are going to work out,” said Ella. “I’m a little unsure going in, but I’m hoping they will end up being fun.”

Junior Andrew Petlak, said he was considering attending outdoor services at either Beth Am or Beth Jacob. 

“I know Beth Am has like a field on the like outside that they have, maybe we’ll do that, and Beth Jacob also has their whole yard thing, so I’m not really sure what we’ll do. I’ll probably go to shul during the mornings at either one of those places.”

CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this story mischaracterized how junior Andrew Petlak said he would daven over Rosh Hashanah. He said he was considering attending outdoor services at either Beth Am or Beth Jacob; he did not say he would attend Zoom services with Beth Am.  The Boiling Point regrets the error.