Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

SOJC prepares for 'High Holy Days unlike any other'

For the last several months, the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation has held Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services over Zoom, in a well-received effort to keep the community both safe and connected in the unprecedented times created by COVID-19.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for innovation,” said Rabbi Orrin Krublit. “We’re always looking for chances to create sacred spaces virtually, so people can be transformed and feel the power of Shabbat even while apart.”

The shift to digital has brought with it plenty of challenges, such as technical issues regarding sound quality and bandwidth. But as the community has learned from and overcome these challenges, creating a fulfilling Shabbat experience for all, the lessons learned have helped SOJC prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days, too. As Rosh Hashanah draws near on the calendar, SOJC’s leadership has been hard at work creating opportunities for members of the congregation to have the sacred experience needed this time of year.

“This will be a High Holy Days unlike any other,” said Rabbi Krublit. “We’re offering a variety of different options to participate in the High Holy Day services, whether that is through online worship, virtual participation, or in-person attendance. We want to make sure that everyone has a way they feel comfortable and safe to have sacred experiences.”

Each Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service will be offered via Zoom for all SOJC members. Additionally, there will be several opportunities for members who want to share the holidays in person to do so while still maintaining social distancing.

Rosh Hashanah evening services on Sept. 18 and 19 will be held via Zoom only. The morning services on Sept. 19 and 20 will have in-person opportunities for 50 guests per day. While there will not be a Torah service on either day, the rabbi and cantor have added meaningful prayers and sermons to heighten the sacred experience of this holiday.

There will also be an afternoon family service on Sept. 19 and 20, with in-person opportunities for 50 guests per day. These shorter services will be directed towards families with children from Pre-K to 5th grade. Immediately after the family service on the 20th, there will be a shofar blowing service in the SOJC parking lot, where all may roll down their car windows to let in the call of the shofar.

Yom Kippur at SOJC will include in-person opportunities on both Sept. 27 and 28, including the evening Kol Nidre service (50 guests), the morning service (50 guests), and the afternoon family service (50 guests). While there will not be a Torah service, Yizkor will be chanted.

There will also be a Yom Kippur healing service on the afternoon of Sept. 28, led by Cantor Ramsay. This service will be held on Zoom only.

SOJC has set guidelines to keep their congregants safe from COVID-19 during the High Holy Days. All congregants present must wear masks while at SOJC, and their temperature will be taken at the door before they are allowed into the building. Additionally, the doors to the synagogue will be locked once services begin. Congregants will be assigned a seat for the service, and everyone must bring their own Mahzor, as well. For extra protection, hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the building for all to use.

Recent Shabbat services have welcomed minyanim back into SOJC to practice these new guidelines with great success. All families maintain a distance of six feet apart from other families, and everyone greets their long-unseen friends with a warm, distanced “Shalom!”

“One of the most painful things about this pandemic — for those who haven’t fallen ill — is the loneliness factor,” said Rabbi Krublit. “It’s been so great to be able to welcome people back into the sanctuary, safe and socially distant, with masks … It’s such a pleasure to actually see people in person, to see how much they’ve grown over these past five months.

“I think that one of the amazing things about this is that we can see how many people connect to our community, and want to connect to our community,” he added. “There’s just such a thirst for that in-person connection. The High Holy Days are a reason to come together and see one another.”

For those who will be participating in High Holy Day services through Zoom, Rabbi Krublit has some advice for how to make the services as spiritual an experience as possible.

“Change the space that you’ve been Zooming in,” he said. “If you’ve been Zooming from your couch or your bed, it won’t be as powerful an experience. Find a sense of serenity. Also, pay careful attention not only to the spaces you’re streaming from but also to the tech you’re using. You don’t want the phone to die in the middle of the Amidah — you don’t want to be taken out of the moment!”

In addition to preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Krublit has his eyes on the future.

“Of course, I hope that we can meet back in person fully and safely as soon as possible,” he said of his hopes for the new year of 5781. “That’s a hope the entire world is sharing — to come back together as a holy community. For now, my hope is that people will find ways to connect to all of the different opportunities that we’re offering to engage with and to celebrate these holidays.”


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