PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — There’s a pull between religious beliefs, the rise in COVID-19 and going virtual for high holy days across synagogues.
“Our dependence on God is very important for those things we have no control over,” said senior Rabbi David Steinhardt at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton. “However, there are things that we do control.” Advertisement
According to the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, about 80% of the synagogues in the county are offering a virtual option with an in-person experience and 20% are going fully virtual.
B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton is one of them. Rabbi Steinhardt said the decision was difficult, but told WPBF 25 News that between case numbers and the large number of older people who attend their services, staying open for the holidays was a concern.
“We have thousands of people that come into the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so the more people there are the more difficult it is for social distancing,” said Steinhardt. “This gives us an opportunity to be together to pray together,” he said. “It’s not the same as being together, but it’s a wonderful experience.”
Over at the Jewish Community Synagogue in Palm Beach Gardens, their approach is based on Orthodox views and say the nearly 1,500 members they have are all vaccinated.
“We were one of the first synagogues to give out vaccines,” said Junior Rabbi Leib Ezagui. “Rosh Hashana is about accepting a higher force, it’s about accepting God as our king and when you believe in a higher force and believe in doing what’s right, you can’t really replicate that by doing it virtually.”
Rabbi Ezagui added, “Orthodox synagogues don’t use electric on the holiday, we don’t use our cars, our phones, our computers.”
The Jewish Community Synagogue is, however, limiting capacity to 50 people. For those who don’t want to go inside, they are doing part of the shofar blowing outside of the building to accommodate.
“I pray and hope this new year turns a new leaf, a healthy leaf and we can finally put this COVID behind us,” Ezagui said.
Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset Monday and Yom Kippur begins at sunset on Sept. 15.