Chicago Sun-Times

Rosh Hashanah livestream­ed in COVID-19 era

- NEIL STEINBERG nstein­berg@sun­times.com | @NeilStein­berg Religion · Rosh Hashanah · Judaism · New York City · York City F.C. · New York · Yom Kippur · Inquisition

The Jewish year of ... check­ing ... 5781 be­gins at sun­down Fri­day, and is a re­minder that the Cho­sen Peo­ple are not new­com­ers at cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­days dur­ing hard times. As grim as the COVID pan­demic has been, it doesn’t hold a can­dle to Baby­lo­nian cap­tiv­ity or Ro­man per­se­cu­tion, the In­qui­si­tion or the Holo­caust. Not yet, any­way.

The busi­ness of main­tain­ing Jewish iden­tity, al­ready un­der siege by mod­ern life, is com­pli­cated in the Plague Year of 2020 as Ju­daism cel­e­brates Rosh Hashanah — lit­er­ally, “head of the year” — and then atones for sins in the year to come at Yom Kip­pur nine days later.

“This is an in­ter­est­ing year, un­like any other,” said Rabbi Steven Lowen­stein, whom I called be­cause his syn­a­gogue, Am Shalom of Glen­coe, is one of many stream­ing high hol­i­day ser­vices.

“We’ve been livestream­ing for eight or nine years now,” he said. “We orig­i­nally did it as part of our out­reach to peo­ple who were sick or couldn’t come to ser­vices. This year is much more com­plex and more dif­fi­cult.”

Com­plex be­cause they can’t just turn one cam­era on the bima — the raised plat­form where ser­vices are con­ducted.

“Now we are spread out in four dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions,” said Lowen­stein. “Seven or eight dif­fer­ent cam­eras, six dif­fer­ent lecterns, so­cially dis­tanced from ev­ery­one. We’re at­tempt­ing to bring it all to­gether.”

Rabbi Lowen­stein is joined in the sanc­tu­ary by Rabbi Phyl­lis Som­mer and Rabbi Pamela Man­del — it’s a big con­gre­ga­tion, 1,000 fam­i­lies — while Can­tor An­drea Rae Markow­icz and Can­tor Julie Sta­ple are in the so­cial hall, the largest room.

“Singing is the most dan­ger­ous,” said Lowen­stein. “They’ll ac­tu­ally be singing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, so the spray is go­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.”

It’s a change for con­gre­gants, too. Stand­ing in your liv­ing room in sweats is a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from putting on a suit and go­ing to

shul. Ser­vices are ad­justed ac­cord­ingly.

“We’ve short­ened things a lit­tle bit be­cause we know so many peo­ple are get­ting al­most all of their con­tent dig­i­tally,” said Dan Mutlu, se­nior can­tor at Cen­tral Syn­a­gogue in New York City. “Con­certs, wor­ship ser­vices, work meet­ings. A sense of a cer­tain fa­tigue sets in. Peo­ple are go­ing to par­tic­i­pate in dif­fer­ent ways when they are home. They don’t have a con­gre­ga­tion of hun­dreds around them. They might not be as ready to sing a re­frain four times. They might have the stamina to sing two stan­zas.”

Since Jews don’t gen­er­ally pass a col­lec­tion plate, syn­a­gogues of­ten charge for mem­ber­ship and ex­tra for tick­ets to high hol­i­day ser­vices, the one time a year even weak-tea Jews such as my­self are flushed from hid­ing. But many syn­a­gogues aren’t charg­ing this year. The Chicago Board of Rab­bis lists 36 con­gre­ga­tions stream­ing ser­vices free to non-mem­bers.

“We’ve opted to not pass­word pro­tect, to make our ser­vices avail­able to ev­ery­one,” said Lowen­stein. Why?

“‘Our house shall be a house of prayer for all peo­ple,’ ” he said, quot­ing Isa­iah. “While we lost rev­enue from high hol­i­day ticket sales, for the most part our mem­bers have stepped up.”

Cen­tral Syn­a­gogue is the pow­er­house of livestream­ing, reach­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in over 100 coun­tries. I’ve dropped in on their high hol­i­day ser­vices for the past three or four years be­cause I like the or­nate build­ing, quick ser­vice and ra­di­at­ing

ru­ach — spirit — of Rabbi An­gela Buch­dahl, the first Asian Amer­i­can or­dained a rabbi. They be­gan livestream­ing in 2008.

“From the be­gin­ning, we wanted to make it free and accessible to any­body,” said Mutlu.

Of course, re­li­gious life con­tin­ues off­line, in the liv­ing world, al­beit gin­gerly. The Lubav­itch, a sect of the Ortho­dox Ha­sidic move­ment, are hold­ing hun­dreds of street cor­ner sound­ings of the sho­far — blasts on an an­i­mal horn to usher in the New Year. Their Sho­far in the Street web­site lists times and lo­ca­tions.

Peo­ple who see the black hats and the beards and think of the Amish might be sur­prised at how en­er­get­i­cally the Lubav­itch em­brace mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“We are very into tech­nol­ogy,” said Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, re­gional direc­tor of the Lubav­itch Chabad of Illi­nois. “Most things in the world can be used for good or bad. It’s our job to uti­lize it for the right things. Way back when tele­vi­sion be­came pop­u­lar, they used to broad­cast the Rebbe’s teach­ings.”

By “Rebbe,” he was re­fer­ring to Rabbi Me­nachem Men­del Sch­neer­son, revered seer of the Lubav­itch move­ment.

“Some ques­tioned us­ing these new things in this way,” con­tin­ued Moscowitz. “The Rebbe ex­plained that the whole point of these tech­nolo­gies is to use them for some­thing good.”

 ?? ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS ?? Rabbi Pam Man­del (from left), Rabbi Steven Lowen­stein and Rabbi Phyl­lis Som­mer prac­tice the livestream of Rosh Hashanah at Am Shalom in Glen­coe on Thurs­day.
ASHLEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS Rabbi Pam Man­del (from left), Rabbi Steven Lowen­stein and Rabbi Phyl­lis Som­mer prac­tice the livestream of Rosh Hashanah at Am Shalom in Glen­coe on Thurs­day.
 ??  ?? Mike Ross, vice pres­i­dent of SPL pro­duc­tion com­pany, mixes the au­dio dur­ing Thurs­day’s prac­tice run of the livestream.
Mike Ross, vice pres­i­dent of SPL pro­duc­tion com­pany, mixes the au­dio dur­ing Thurs­day’s prac­tice run of the livestream.
 ??  ??

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