Challenges & Changes Await Clergy, Congregants For High Holidays

Last year, clergy and congregants alike hoped that last year’s High Holiday services over Zoom or being live-streamed was going to be a one-off, and come 2021, we’d all be back, masks off, carefree, and ready to pack back into sanctuaries around the Twin Cities.

About that…

While we certainly aren’t there, what some synagogues are trying to pull off may be even more challenging than last year, while others have decided to scale back their original plans. 

“Last year, obviously, was, hard, but this year feels harder in a way,” said Beth El Rabbi Alexander Davis. “Last year was hard was all new, and we were figuring it out as we went. And this year, it’s hard, because we feel like we’re in the middle of this uncertainty.”

The uncertainty has led to most congregations going with multiple points of access for their services this year: a mix of in-person, outdoors, or livestreamed options. Some are requiring proof of vaccination for those that are choosing to attend in person, with masks required indoors or out.

“We are excited that we are going to be doing services outdoors,” said Temple Israel Rabbi Jennifer Hartman. “We’ll be doing services in the sanctuary. And we will also be doing services on Zoom. So we think we’ve got everything covered that way.”

Mount Zion Temple, for example, will be offering both a livestream and Zoom options depending on what type of interactivity people are looking for, as well as outdoor services.

“It’s more about how do the timeless messages of High Holidays still speak to us?,” said Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker. “That’s the most important piece. But [we’re] being aware of the way people’s expectations might be different. So we’re making a little bit more of an emphasis on briefer times for services, and music that just elevates it in a different way.”

Others, including Shir Tikvah, Mayim Rabim, Adath Jeshurun and Or Emet made changes to the initially announced plans.

“Of the many things we’ve learned in the past 18 months is that we can plan — and we do plan — but virus is unpredictable,” Shir Tikvah Rabbi Michael Latz said. The synagogue had to. “Shir Tikvah members did all the right stuff: we got vaccinated, we all tried to take care of each other, we socially distanced, and we still landed here. And we understand that this was the call we had to make to keep people’s health and well-being.”

Adath Hazzan Joanna Dulkin said that the most challenging thing has been planning for every scenario.

“I don’t want it to feel like it’s like we’re frantic and freaking out. We’re all now experienced in this reality, to the extent that anyone can be,” she said. “It’s just tiring just hearing that the information changes. Now we’re just, in a way, desensitized to the shock of how that maybe felt a year ago.”

No matter how the services are enjoyed, Davis said that they will be amazing.

“There’s a large headache that our Jewish communal professionals are having right now as they tried to plan for the holidays,” Davis said. “And for all the headaches and the concern and uncertainty, I also feel really excited. The holidays are amazing. And they’re going to be even more amazing this year because we need them so much more this year. We need to taste the sweetness of the apples and honey, we need to hear the shofar and have its piercing sound open our hearts. And the words of the Machzor, there’s no doubt in my mind that they will touch us this year because it’s been such a monumental year. And the holidays, in their wisdom will meet us exactly where we’re at.”