Congregation Beth Shalom takes Rosh Hashanah tradition on the road during pandemic


Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of the Jewish New Year, is typically marked with feasting, reflecting and gathering in community, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made a traditional celebration more difficult this year.

Congregation Beth Shalom has been holding its services virtually since the pandemic began in March. Its leaders wanted to offer in-person events at the synagogue on W. 96th St. to mark Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 18 to 20, and its culmination in Yom Kippur, Sept. 27 to 28, but were unable to find a way to safely do so.

So, the congregation decided to take at least part of the festivities — the trumpeting of the shofar to mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah — to some of its most isolated members. Rabbi Justin Kerber is leading a brief outdoor service at several nursing homes and retirement facilities through Sept. 22.

“It’s hard to imagine what it’s like for some of our more senior members to have been isolated for so long, and it’s heartbreaking on our end,” Kerber said. “I’m sure as difficult as we think it’s been for all of us, I’m sure it’s even more difficult for those who are elderly.”

Kerber, a Carmel resident, said he hopes the efforts will show the congregants that they are still a valuable part of the community, even if they must be physically apart.

“I hope it’s a positive and tangible connection that they can make. I want them to receive the message that we care about them so much that we are going to do everything in our power to bring our community to them, because they mean so much to us,” Kerber said. “I also hope that it will be taken as a sign of hope and safety and a better future in this year to come.”

The project will conclude with a service open to the public at 10 a.m. Sept. 27 outside St. Christopher’s Episcopalian Church in Carmel. Kerber said the two congregations have been building connections in the past year.

“My sense is that everywhere in this nation people are curious and eager to learn more from one another. They’re really wishing they could reach out beyond these barriers we create for ourselves,” he said. “Religious communities are a great way to meet people on other sides of these artificial divides. In lots of ways, our community is excited to be a place of gathering beyond the Jewish community.”