Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Instead of full houses, multiple services and security guards directing traffic, Winnipeg’s synagogues will be largely empty this weekend when the city’s Jewish community marks its new year.
"We take it now that every home is an extension of the sanctuary," said Rabbi Anibal Mass of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, which will livestream services for Rosh Hashanah on Saturday and Sunday morning.
"We want every home to be an extension of Shaarey Zedek."
Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year — starts at sundown Friday, and runs until sunset Sunday. The High Holidays close with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, on Sept. 28.
Public health restrictions around large gatherings due to the global COVID-19 pandemic prompted several synagogues to move to virtual gatherings for the holidays.
Only clergy, musicians, and technicians will attend the Saturday and Sunday services at Shaarey Zedek this year, with synagogue members logging in to a password-protected website to watch the livestreamed services in exchange for a donation, says synagogue executive director Ian Staniloff.
Seat sales during the high holidays make up a large part of the synagogue’s annual donations, he said, and members have stepped up again this year, despite not being able to attend in person.
"We’re diversifying the event for people, we’re encouraging people with children to raise questions with their children." – Rabbi Neal Rose
"This year, we asked (members): if you can do it, match what you did last year," said Staniloff, adding donations sit at about 75 per cent of 2019.
Across the city at Congregation Etz Chayim, members are picking up their new holiday prayer books from the parking lot before the weekend, in order to prepare for the livestreamed services at the North End synagogue, said Rabbi Kliel Rose.
Ticket sales are strong for the four services, and the virtual format allows greater access to the services for non-members because space isn’t an issue, he said.
People with password access can stay with the main service or click into other options, including an alternative service recorded by Rose’s parents, Rabbi Neal Rose and Carol Rose, from their home in St. Louis, Mo.
"We’re diversifying the event for people, we’re encouraging people with children to raise questions with their children," about the practices and meaning, said Rose.
Jews have a long tradition of adapting to hardships and challenges, and the virtual services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are just one more adaptation, said Mass, who plans to preach on the topic of change this weekend.
Although people shy away from change — even fear it — the new year is a good time to embrace it, he said.
"Human beings by nature run away from discomfort," said Mass. "We don’t understand we have to embrace discomfort if we want to grow."
The high holidays offer space to reflect on meaning and purpose of life and to resolve to make it better, said Rabbi Avrohom Altein of the Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg, an Orthodox Jewish organization.
The south River Heights Jewish learning centre will run socially-distanced holiday services, with seating limited to 50 people. Altein said it does not record or broadcast services because it believes technology is not allowed on Shabbat and holidays.
Those who can’t attend a service can hear the shofar blown in one of a dozen south Winnipeg parks Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar, a bugle made from a ram’s horn, is like a wake-up call inviting people into a relationship with God, said Altein.
"It’s to wake up and give more meaning to life," he said.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
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