How Rosh Hashanah celebrations are adapting in the age of coronavirus

Online and outdoor services have been prepared and will dominate this holiday season to mitigate COVID-19 risks.

At the Chabad of Bayonne, Rabbi Yisrael Bennish took NJTV News on a tour to show what COVID-19 era preparations and adjustments are being made for the Jewish new year celebration Rosh Hashanah, that starts Friday night at 7 p.m.

“We’re doing nothing indoors, we’re doing everything in this tent, so half outdoor, half indoor. It meets the guidelines of the Bayonne Health Department,” said Rabbi Yisrael Bennish, the director of Chabad of Bayonne.

Montclair State University epidemiologist Stephanie Silvera says outdoor and online services are the best way to respect the coronavirus and practice one’s faith.

“I know that in some of the reform communities, for example, they’re broadcasting their services via Zoom, which is another option. I know that’s more challenging for our conservative and orthodox community members, so in those cases if there’s a way to have an outdoor celebration, our outdoor services,” Silvera said.

Rabbi Dan Selsberg of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater says the loss of 11 people in his community has put a great weight on his shoulders, so holiday services will be online and outdoors with face coverings and social distancing.

“We have to respect where people are at. It’s important to take precautions,” Selsberg said. “Judaism, of necessity, has been built for hard times. And for better or worse, we’ve been through worse than this, so it’s designed to help carry us through periods when life isn’t ideal.”

COVID-19 realities have made Selsberg philosophical.

“Jews have been gathering at these holy days for thousands of years, literally since the dawn of civilization. I’ve had moments of fear that will this practice of thousands of years end on my watch?” he said. “God willing, we’re resilient enough that we will get through this hard time and we can make it to a period  where we can flourish again and we can reinvent ourselves for whatever the world looks like post-pandemic.”