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Northeast Ohio Jewish community adapts to observe High Holy Days during pandemic

From live-streamed services to outdoor tents, the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah will look very different this year.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio — The safety concerns brought by joining together in prayer, inside, have posed a challenge for many places of worship during the pandemic.

With the Rosh Hashanah holiday beginning Friday at sundown, the Jewish community in Northeast Ohio has had to adapt.

"The challenge is, on the one hand, to connect and engage with people and generate meaning for them in their lives," Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Senior Rabbi at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood, told 3News. "On the other hand, to also generate a sense of community...wherein we cannot physically congregate."

This changing fall season marks the start of the High Holy Days and the Jewish New Year. But this year, these most sacred holidays will look different than in years past.

"Being in an empty sanctuary is is hard," Rabbi Allison Vann of Suburban Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood said. "I miss you, I miss the energy, I miss the faces."

For Reform synagogue The Temple-Tifereth Israel, plans for high-tech services that combine live and pre-recorded elements have been in the works for months.

"Not only will our congregants see their Rabbis, hear their Rabbis leading prayers, delivering their sermons, not only will they hear me singing the melodies that they connect to for the high holy days but they're going to see over 100 congregational families...participating in the service in various ways, we've pre-recorded them." Cantor Kathryn Wolfe Sebo said.

Fitting with the times, they'll be practicing some Zoom etiquette at Suburban Temple-Kol Ami. When asked if her congregants would be able to sing together, Vann said they've already learned it won't be possible.

"We learned the hard way,"she laughed." Because of the lag on Zoom, [we've found] that if we ask you to un-mute, that the echo is horrible."

But in Orthodox shuls, virtual services are not an option.

"We can't do technology on the holidays, on the Sabbath," Rabbi Alan Joseph of Bikur Cholim of Cleveland explained. "So instead, there's a lot of creativity going on. A lot of synagogues are moving outside [in tents]...which helps, in addition to social distancing. As important as the holidays are, we know that what trumps all of it is the safety of people."

Prioritizing safety is something the entire Jewish community is in agreement on.

"It is a religious duty on our part not only to follow these procedures not only to take care of ourselves but also collectively take care of each other," Cohen said.

And in this opportunity to reflect and start anew, each shared messages of hope:

"I think more than ever, we need to be connected to our faith, whatever that faith may be. We need each other and we need to figure out kindness, and we need to figure out how to build our country back together again." - Rabbi Allison Vann

"The prayers and repenting and the charity that we do now over this these coming days could change things drastically and next year could look a lot better. And we're hopeful that it will." - Rabbi Alan Joseph

"Whether your background has taught you the word Shalom or Salam or Pax the word peace I think is at the core. Not just peace in our community but peace in our own hearts and our souls." - Cantor Kathryn Wolfe Sebo

"My hope is that the coming year will be a year of healing  that it will be a year of greater stability of greater peace of greater hope and a sense of us looking forward to mending much of what has been broken.... we need to know that we have it in us to be agent of positive change of healing of wellness and of comfort and of peace and i hope that we bring this message to bear during our high holy days and beyond." - Rabbi Jonathan Cohen