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Anne Arundel temples adjust Rosh Hashana traditions to drive-thru shofar blowing, digital sermons and recorded prayers


Sept. 18, 2020

Rabbi Ari Goldstein and staff at Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold have spent months planning for Rosh Hashana on Friday and the 10 days of repentance leading to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
Around 350 members attend Temple Beth Shalom during the holy holidays. Now, no worshipers are allowed inside the sanctuary.
Above just moving services online, Goldstein and his staff enlisted the help of Live Arts Maryland to produce, edit and package pre-recorded prayers for Sabbath dinner and an elaborate audiovisual experience for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services.
Viewers will be able to follow along with the Torah from a camera placed on Goldstein’s bimah while the Annapolis Chorale performs songs outside the temple that are synchronized with the audio inside.
“It’s really going to be a pleasing visual experience,” Goldstein said. “We have the capacity either to just be in despair and disappointment about what’s lost or we can see it as an opportunity to do something unusual and special.”
Rosh Hashana is a joyous celebration of the Jewish New Year filled with family, sweet food, prayer and reflection. Synagogues across Anne Arundel County have been adapting and preparing for weeks to observe one of Judaism’s holiest days during the coronavirus pandemic.
The holiday kicks off with fun traditions like eating sweet challah bread or honey and apples to signify entering a “sweet” new year. Those customs are easy to continue from afar.
More importantly, Rosh Hashana ushers in the new year with an emphasis on community and family, a central theme disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic requiring limited travel and restricted gatherings. It’s also a time for reflection and repentance for action taken over the previous year. In 2020, it’s been a year wrought by difficulties for many families.
“In a pandemic, we’re all in a sense broken. There are pieces of our lives that are missing ... It’s just now we’re broken at the same time everyone is and it’s about how can we use this to make us stronger, to overcome,” said Rabbi Josh Wohl of Congregation Kol Shalom in Annapolis. “There are elements of our lives that are missing ... ritual is just one of them.”
Wohl works to provide connection and community for his congregants by holding socially distant communal meals and services on Hillsmere beach. For Rosh Hashana on Friday, children are invited to participate in an arts and craft project about how to be a better person in the new year. The project will follow Tashlich, a ritual where you throw bread into the water to cast away your sins.
“Jewish history has taught us that we are hopeful people. That where we are now is not where we always will be. You don’t deny, you don’t say everything is great, but you have faith that the future will be better,” Wohl said.
Congregation Kol Shalom now has plastic guards in front of lecterns for the handful of members allowed to worship in person. Wohl is sending boxes with Rosh Hashana activities to his members along with digital prayer books. His online service will be shorter than physical holiday sermons that last several hours.
One of the most well-known Rosh Hashana rituals is blowing the shofar, a trumpet made from a ram’s horn that signals the beginning of a new year.
Since blowing a horn in an enclosed space isn’t pandemic friendly, Temple Beth Shalom invites its members to observe the silent, powerful ritual drive-thru style from their car.
Congregation Kneseth Israel, a 114-year-old synagogue in Annapolis, also plans to blow the shofar outside after service. The synagogue’s sanctuary fits 460 people and plans to space around 70 people inside during the service. Temperature checks and masks are required.
A holiday kiddush blessing over wine is customarily performed before dinner with family and friends. Many temples canceled their food social hours because of the pandemic.
Rabbi Nochum Light from Chabad of Anne Arundel County is catering the food service by handing out meals to his members after service. Light purchased a large tent so that his members can connect face-to-face.
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Light and his children also plan to pass out honey cakes and blow the shofar outside senior living centers for elderly members that can’t attend a physical service.
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