Congregations plan for High Holy Days — Mostly Without In-Person Services

Rosh Hashanah 5780 at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans

While most congregations in the region have not announced High Holy Day plans, some have already made their decisions — and most are choosing not to have in-person services. This will be updated as more congregations make their announcements.


On July 13, Temple Beth-El in Anniston announced that the monthly service in August, as well as all High Holy Day services, would be cancelled.


Beit Ariel Chabad in Birmingham is planning outdoor services for the High Holy Days, under a tent. All participants will be required to wear masks, and there will be social distancing between individuals or families.


Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El will have a series of meditative Prayer Walks for the High Holy Days, with a pre-set course for masked and socially-distanced groups. Rabbi Stephen Slater said there will be “different spots along the path where there will be prompts that invite them to reflect on their lives in light of this moment and Hashem’s call on us as Jews.”


The paths will be about an hour in length, and “we hope that the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual work of this season will be lifted up in a new way for people through this experience,” Slater said.


On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, several pastors and leaders in the Black community have been invited to take part.


Evening services for Rosh Hashanah and Kol Nidre will be done in a more traditional manner, though entirely by simulcast and not in person.


Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El announced on July 3 that it will not have in-person High Holy Day, Sukkot or Simchat Torah services this year. Rabbi Adam Wright and Emanu-El President Robert Berman said the congregation will conduct focus groups and surveys to ensure that the worship experience will complement spirituality and Jewish ethos.


Dothan‘s Temple Emanu-El is planning a hybrid service of in-person and Zoom for the High Holy Days. The congregation started in-person services on Aug. 7, with limited attendance and social distancing.


On July 22, Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville announced that “it is most prudent to worship virtually” rather than have High Holy Day services in the sanctuary. The congregation has contracted with Cantor Ted Labow, who is working with Rabbi Berk on planning the services. The congregation is working on procedures to provide “loaner” copies of the High Holy Days prayerbook, and has links to discounted physical copies and Kindle editions that congregants can purchase.


The North Alabama Community Hebrew School at Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville will meet virtually for the first half of the academic year, with Aug. 30 as the first day of classes.


Rabbi Natan Trief, formerly of Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge, will lead virtual High Holy Day services for Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile. The service will be broadcast from the Springhill Avenue sanctuary for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, while the intermediate Shabbat will be led from his home in Atlanta.


Services at Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery will be held virtually this year.


On July 17, Tuscaloosa’s Temple Emanu-El announced it will not have in-person High Holy Day services, “in the best interest for the safety and health of our temple family.” Plans are bring formulated for virtual services.


B’nai Israel in Panama City will have High Holy Day services led by Rabbi Bruce Aft, a student rabbi and cantorial soloist Daniel Sternlicht. Virtual services will be led from the Temple and remote locations. The sanctuary “will be open for a limited number of persons who express interest in advance about being onsite,” with face coverings and social distancing.


B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge is planning to hold High Holy Day services virtually. President Andy Blumberg said “we are not completely eliminating the possibility of gathering together physically with appropriate precautions,” but at the moment he is not convinced that can happen.


With Hebrew Union College holding its fall classes entirely online, student rabbi visits will also be virtual. Temple Shalom in Lafayetteis working out a virtual High Holy Day schedule with Student Rabbi Shirah Kraus.


B’nai Israel in Monroe is meeting in person “with extreme safety measures,” and an online option to stream services.


Touro Synagogue’s religious school in New Orleans will be modeled after its summer program, Yamim Yafim, a camp-style outdoors socially-distanced in-person learning experience.


Shir Chadash in Metairie decided for the first time in the congregation’s history that it would use technology to broadcast its High Holy Days services, following a new ruling from the Conservative movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards. The plan is to utilize both Livestream and Zoom.


Shir Chadash Rabbi Deborah Silver said the risk to the health and safety of congregants from gathering in person during the Covid-19 pandemic has made it incumbent upon the synagogue to explore safer options.


“We believe these recommendations fulfill the mandate of Conservative Judaism to strike the right balance between tradition and change,” Rabbi Silver said. “They provide the greatest access to our services for the greatest number of people in our community during the Covid-19 emergency while preserving the culture of our sacred spaces and the lay leadership who make our services special and meaningful.”


Shir Chadash in Metairie will also have David Kaplinsky, “one of our own,” as service leader.


In Gulfport, Rabbi Akiva Hall said the Beth Israel board is working on a safe plan to reopen, and they anticipate being open for the High Holy Days with safety protocols, barring a state-mandated closure.


Beth Israel in Jackson was the first congregation in the region to definitively rule out in-person services. The June 24 announcement was made by the congregational board and Rabbi Joseph Rosen. “We will be sure to be diligent in seeing that our congregation will be well equipped to offer a quality spiritual opportunity,” Rosen said.