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Rosh Hashanah: Jewish High Holy Days celebrated virtually; churches take notes preparing for possible Christmas with COVID-19

Posted September 18, 2020 6:36 p.m. EDT

With holidays fast approaching, major religions are beginning to think about how they will host important holiday celebrations and gatherings.

Until we get a vaccine, large gatherings will be on hold – including packing the pews for holiday services this year.

This weekend, that impacts how Jewish congregations celebrate Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

By taking a look at how one Wake County congregation is managing their ceremony, other faiths might be able to learn from their experience.

Rosh Hashanah marks the High Holy Days, celebrating the beginning of the creation of humankind. Typically, congregations would gather in the sanctuary.

"These are the equivalent in the Jewish world of what would be Easter or Christmas," said Ariel Edery, the rabbi of Beth Shalom, a synagogue in Cary.

Rosh Hashanah begins with 10 days of reflection and repentance – and ends in Yom Kippur.

"This is the time we are gathering in our synagogues and our congregations and in our families for reflections, singing, food," said Edery.

Since March, the temple has hosted its services exclusively on screen.

For any other Jewish New Year, the pews would be packed. The people would gather by the water and throw bread crumbs to symbolize the discarding of sins.

Not this year.

And yet, the rabbi will still deliver his sermon, the musicians will still lift their voices.

It will still be something sacred.

"Every week, reaching through the screen, reaching through the camera, we still are together," said Edery. "I still see people clapping along and singing when we're singing here."

This adapted way of celebrating is something for Christians to watch as they look forward to greeting their big season come December.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of families watching this year from home," said Edery.

Chris Connell of RFA Church in Raleigh said about half of his congregation meeting in person; the others are online or watching the church's TV broadcasts.

"As human beings, I think we're built to be face to face, to be with one another. Unfortunately, a lot of folks aren't able to do that. But I think the message of Christmas is God is with us," said Connell.

Rosh Hoshanah begins at sundown on Friday and ends on Sunday evening.

Beth Shalom will have services Friday night and Saturday morning – all, of course, online. ​

"This is a year in which the world was different, but we're still here and we're doing what our people have done for thousands of years," said Edery.

It's creation.

For all its sins and sickness, it's still worthy of celebration.

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