Providence Temples Adapt for Socially Distanced Jewish Holidays

Observing during the pandemic at Temple Beth-El and Temple Emanu-El


People around the world are already wondering what the holiday season will look like this year and for Jewish communities, that means September. The month marks the beginning of the New Year with Rosh Hashanah, followed by Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, on September 18-19 and September 27-28, respectively. The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled everything and as we go to press, temples everywhere are restructuring how and where they will be able to organize their congregations to observe the holidays.

Here in Providence, Temple Beth-El and Temple Emanu-El, the two largest congregations in the state, are in the process of finalizing their plans, but two things are now certain. First off, there will be no traditional full temple services in either of the temples this year. That said, both are actively planning an impressive array of outreach activities to ensure these important holidays will be observed in as inclusive, meaningful, and engaging a way as possible.

In a letter to congregants early in August, Temple Emanu-El leadership promised there would be exciting ways to participate via phone, Zoom, live streaming and possibly even Public Access TV. In addition, the temple is considering smaller off-site, in-person programs and activities, as well. For example, Tashlikh is a traditional Rosh Hashanah event that draws congregants from many temples down to the Seekonk River for a brief ceremony that ends with the ceremonial casting away of sins by tossing pieces of bread into the river. This year, it likely will be affected by social distancing requirements or augmented by smaller tossings around the state.

Down the hill at Temple Beth-El, anyone who would like to join them digitally for worship is welcome. In addition, all youth and family engagement activities in the Rabbi Leslie Yale Gutterman Religious School will be cost-free (with the exception of B’nei Mitzvah fees) to all who are interested. The temple will also offer a path of self-directed reflection through Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year led by author Rabbi Debra Robbins on September 14  at 7pm.

A high point for any New Year’s celebration is always the blowing of the shofar because of its ties to the Days of Repentance and the inspiration that comes with hearing its piercing blasts.  Both temples will be offering special outdoor shofar blowings in September.  


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