Jewish New Year Starts at Sundown Amid Coronavirus Restrictions


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Rosh Hashana begins at sundown today with online and outdoor services planned because indoor religious services are prohibited under public health orders.

The California Department of Public Health is encouraging families to participate in services within their own homes whenever possible to reduce the risk of the coronavirus.

When religious ceremonies require a particular number of individuals to be present, if families are unable to do so on their own and feel it is absolutely necessary, they should carry out the act outdoors at least 6 feet apart from others while wearing a face covering, according to Dr. Erica Pan, the acting state public health officer.

The practice of gathering for festive meals featuring apples dipped in honey, symbolic of the wishes for a sweet year, is also discouraged by the California Department of Public Health.

People are encouraged to connect with relatives virtually and families to only consume food they have prepared within their own home.

Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish New Year and ushers in a 10-day period of repentance and contemplation culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Judaism's most solemn and somber day.

During the High Holy Days, Jewish tradition holds that God records the fate of each person for the coming year in the Book of Life, which is sealed at the end of Yom Kippur.

Services marking the arrival of the year 5781 on the Hebrew calendar will be held tonight -- the day begins at sundown on the Hebrew calendar – and Saturday and feature the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn mentioned in the Torah and used by ancient Jews in religious ceremonies and as a call to arms and now used at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Jews are biblically commanded to hear the shofar during the High Holy Days.

Knesset Israel, an Orthodox synagogue located in the South Robertson Corridor, will hold its services in the backyard of one of its members.

Each congregant will be required to wear a mask and practice hand hygiene, Rabbi Jason Weiner said. Chairs will be spaced at least 8 feet apart.

Instead of multiple members of the congregation going up to read sections from the Torah, one person will read the whole passage while the rest of the congregation remains at their seats. Services will be shorter than normal.

“It's going to be different, but we're making it work," Weiner said.

A mask will be wound around the end of the shofar to act as a barrier for droplets in the same way it works covering a person's mouth and nose.

Weiner is also the senior rabbi and director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where Rosh Hashana is traditionally observed with services in Harvey Morse Auditorium, the hospital's largest event space.

The auditorium is often filled to capacity, with overflow seating spilling into nearby conference rooms.

“This year, that obviously wasn't possible," Weiner said.

Instead, Weiner and his team of chaplains have produced interactive video services patients will be able to watch and follow along from their rooms.

“The service follows along with our own prayer book used during the High Holidays," Weiner said. “But instead of giving one single sermon, we focused on giving context around each of the prayers and rituals of the service, to make the prayers more meaningful, and so we can use this video in future years."

Multiple volunteers took turns visiting patients and blowing the shofar in past years, but because of the need to limit visitors and patient contact due to the coronavirus pandemic, Weiner said “I'm doing it all myself, with my mask on and with the shofar's mask on."

Although most congregations require membership and tickets for High Holy Days services, some synagogues and organizations hold services and Rosh Hashana observances that are open to the public at no charge.

The Laugh Factory will have a free stream of a Rosh Hashana service at 11 a.m. Saturday. It can be found on The Laugh Factory's YouTube channel, on Instagram at laughfactoryhw and Facebook at @LaughFactoryHW.

This will be the 37th consecutive year The Laugh Factory has provided free High Holy Days services.

In his Rosh Hashana message President Donald Trump said, “As this 10-day period of celebration, devout prayer, reflection, and repentance commences, we are reminded of how important faith, family, and fellowship are to each of us,''

“Particularly during these challenging times, the sense of peace and reassurance that comes with these observances has never been more important in helping us seek His wisdom and understanding as we continue to grow in our faith.''