Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year Festival, is a time where those of the Jewish faith take 10 days to look within and see what needs to be changed, said Rabbi Irwin Huberman of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove.
“[On] Rosh Hashanah, which will begin Friday night, the theology says that God opens up the big ‘Book of Life’ and says ‘either you’re in or you’re not in,’” Huberman said. “On Yom Kippur, which is 10 days later, the verdict, so to speak, is sealed, so you have 10 days to think about your life.”
Huberman noted that he likes to call Rosh Hashanah a 10-day period to “take out your soul trash.”
“I like to say that we write our own book,” he said, “and that if you’re happy with your own book, then God will go along with you. The old tradition is that God is the judge for this time of year. I like to say that you’re the judge.“
While congregants will be celebrating the holiday as they do every year, this year they will not physically be in the sanctuary. People are very concerned, Huberman said, as they are unsure of how they are going to have this life-changing, spiritual and Jewish experience when they cannot be in the synagogue.
Huberman said Congregation Tifereth Israel follows the Conservative Movement, which allows those of the Jewish faith to use technology on a streamline basis, as long as it leads to the elevation of the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest.
“What we’ve tried to accomplish here is to enable our congregants to be part of this even though they’ve been at home,” he said. “We are in the Conservative Movement. We conserve some of the older traditions and we reach into the future to do what it is that we are doing here.”
To achieve this digital connection, what used to be rooms dedicated for worship and fellowship have been transformed into studios, where services are broadcast online. Huberman said online attendance has increased with some even watching from out of state and from Canada, where Huberman is from, and Argentina, where Cantor Gustavo Gitlin is from.
“I must have been asleep that day in rabbinical school when they talked about broadcasting,” Huberman said in jest.
The upcoming holiday services, which usually brings in 400 to 500 people, is drawing in many different elements of technology this year to provide connection and tradition for congregants, while keeping all those involved safe.
For example, participants from the congregation bring out all the Torahs on the evening of Yom Kippur, Sept. 27. However, because they cannot be in the same room this year, participants of the service have been coming in individually over the last two months to be filmed blessing the Torah and reading from it. The videos are then combined to provide an illusion that they are all together.
“Luckily, we have 17-year-old kids here that know how to do this,” Huberman said.
Children are also invited every year for a blessing by the rabbi and the cantor. This year, however, parents sent in photos of their children to be included in a slideshow featuring a blessing by Huberman and Gitlin.
Huberman said the synagogue has incorporated more than 150 congregants over three days of the high holidays.
“We’re actually giving the impression that all isn’t away spiritually,” Huberman added. “We’re just doing it virtually. They’ll see the photos of their family, friends and the Torah and they’ll feel that maybe they’re not isolated and that they’re not alone and that they can be part of something communal.”
Rituals Vice President Phyllis Spector has been in charge of contacting congregants to participate in the service. She also sat with Huberman and Gitlin to discuss the rollout of the service and to make sure that the technology and production going into the service was appropriate to the customs of the congregation.
Spector said the synagogue is taking a risk at a time when everything is new. People are used to coming in and greeting their friends, she said, and services in the synagogue are more interactive than in other religious settings.
“We’re not quiet,” Spector said. “We get up, talk to each other, walk around. What we’re trying to do with technology is recreate that, ‘Hi, how are you?’”
The equipment used to put services together, including the new cameras set up in the sanctuary, cost approximately $15,000, which came from a donor.
“The new technology enables us to bring in a whole new generation of people who don’t want to sit in pews or chairs in synagogue and it enables them to come in for either all the service or part of the service,” Huberman said. “It’s opening the window for a whole new generation or those who just don’t like to be formal when they pray to God.”
Huberman said that he cannot see a future at the synagogue where services are not streamed, even when the seats of the sanctuary will be filled with people again.
“The last few months for me, I see a silver lining every day,” Gitlin said. “We are living in challenging times, but for us, living in this place, having this congregation, all the blessings of the people, it’s really a silver lining.”