PHOTO: “Cannot Predict Now” reads the Magic 8 Ball Rabbi Eve Posen used as a Zoom background for a Neveh Shalom town hall about High Holiday plans. The rabbi views the unpredictability of the Magic 8 Ball as analogous to life in an ever-changing pandemic.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Even before Multnomah County and the state of Oregon issued new mask mandates – initially indoor expanding to outdoor public settings Aug. 27 – many congregations had begun to revamp their plans for the High Holidays.
“The plan is the plan until it changes,” said Neveh Shalom Executive Director Fred Rothstein in a town hall on Zoom announcing High Holiday changes. That is as succinct a way as any to capture the ever-changing landscape of life under COVID.
“The Delta variant is spreading fast and wide, throwing our state into a level of crisis we have not yet seen in the pandemic,” said Gov. Kate Brown in a press release announcing the new mandate for most public outdoor settings. “The combination of vaccines and masks is the most powerful way we can fight this latest surge of COVID-19 and save lives. Vaccination continues to be the best way you can protect yourself and your family from the Delta variant.”
Many congregations have shifted some services to online or moved services from their sanctuary to outdoor settings. Attendance limits to permit social distancing are in effect for services still planned for indoors. Many require or strongly recommend vaccination for service attendees over the age of 12.
“About a month ago, we thought we had all of our plans set for High Holy Days 5782,” said a late August email from Congregation Shaarie Torah. “As we all know, each day brings a new challenge to trying to plan for anything.”
Congregation Beth Israel had planned to welcome congregants back into its historic sanctuary. But after the recent surge, it has moved most services outdoors to its plaza.
“Our desire is to have people gather for the High Holidays to have a meaningful experience and to keep everyone safe,” says Beth Israel Senior Rabbi Michael Cahana. “We’ve felt that this (outdoor services) is something we have the ability to do and is really a good way of gathering and protecting simultaneously. We will be outside wearing masks; clergy who are speaking and singing will keep a lot of distance.”
The state mask mandate excludes individuals giving a speech or performing.
Despite the constant need to adapt, Neveh Shalom Associate Rabbi Eve Posen says that, at least this year, congregations know how they can adapt.
“Last year, we had to create the wheel,” she says. “This year is easier … we are just going back to the wheel, and we know what has been successful.”
Following are the general plans and comments from area congregations as of the end of August. Many have virtual options available to everyone, and some are welcoming nonmembers to attend in-person services – with reservations. Congregations’ service information and other holiday programs can be found on the Community Calendar:
jewishportland.org/highholidayhappenings. However, as things evolve rapidly, most congregations suggest contacting the congregation directly for the most up-to-date offerings and rules.
Sephardic congregation Ahavath Achim plans in-person services at its Hillsdale building across from the MJCC.
“We are requiring registration so that we have an idea how many people will be there and how we can space it out,” says Rabbi Sholom Skolnik. “We’re not going to be checking anyone’s vaccination status, (but) we strongly encourage all people to be vaccinated. We are looking for pretty normal services with hopefully masks being the only major concession to COVID we have to make.”
“The holidays are a time for prayer, and COVID makes it so we have a lot of things to ask for,” he adds. “Prayer can be a game changer. We really hope that with our sincere prayers over the holidays, COVID will become a thing of the past.”
At Congregation Beth Israel, all Rosh Hashanah services will be held outdoors, under tents on the Temple plaza.
Decisions about Yom Kippur services will be announced as circumstances evolve.
Congregation Beth Israel is welcoming guests to in-person outdoor services; details and registration are at bethisrael-pdx.org/guests5782. In addition, all are welcome to stream services.
The page for general High Holidays at CBI is bethisrael-pdx.org/cbi5782. It is the source for the most up-to-date holiday information.
Rabbi Cahana acknowledged plans may change again: “We hope that there is not going to be, as we had in the past, (an) announcement of outdoor restrictions – limits in the number of people who can gather. Of course, we will follow the rules and the recommendations.”
“Hopefully, all the precautions that everyone is taking will bring us to the end of this surge,” he added.
Chabad Houses are adapting, too. The 13 Chabad Houses throughout Oregon and SW Washington will be hosting outdoor services, Shofar in the Park and Rosh Hashanah Shofar Home visits.
“The ever-evolving and constantly changing nature of the past 19 months remind us that, while we ask the creator for our needs, it is vital that we ask ‘what are we needed for?’ ” says Rabbi Motti Wilhelm of Chabad SW Portland. “While we excitedly prepared for a return-to-normality High Holidays, our people are being asked to yet again creatively carry the Jewish mission and message forward during these challenging times.”
In the Portland area, Shofar in the Park will be held in Gabriel Park, Fields Park, Summerlake Park and Wilshire Park. To accommodate the many who will observe the holidays at home, Chabad is printing High Holiday Handbooks and giving classes ahead of the holidays.
Find a Chabad close to you at
Havurah Shalom, which has opened its High Holiday services to the community for free for 41 years, decided early on to offer all its services online this year “in our ‘virtual tent,’ accessible via your mobile phone or computer.”
It is one of the few congregations that hasn’t had to alter its plans over the summer.
“Because we planned for another fully online set of services and events this year, nothing will be changing with our High Holiday schedule,” says Havurah Communications and Membership Coordinator Brad Pector.
All services are online and require registration, which is free. Registration, online machzor (holiday prayerbook) and more information are available on Havurah’s High Holidays page: havurahshalom.org/high-holidays.
Since online services are not compatible with Orthodox tradition, Congregation Kesser Israel plans to hold in-person services at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center to provide sufficient space for social distancing.
Currently planned for indoors in the ballroom, services are open to both members and nonmembers. Vaccination is highly encouraged. Masks and preregistration are required: kesserisrael.org/holidaytickets.
KOL AMI, VANCOUVER
Across the Columbia River in Clark County, Congregation Kol Ami has changed its plans, too. “Our plan was to hold High Holy Day services masked and in person with 3-foot distances between families in the sanctuary and social hall. We also had planned to offer a Livestream option. But Delta has changed all of those plans,” says Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker. “Our committee made the decision that our services will be online only for the second year in a row.”
Services are open to anyone. Email email@example.com to register and get the link.
KOL SHALOM COMMUNITY FOR HUMANISTIC JUDAISM
“All spring, Kol Shalom was planning to hold in-person High Holiday services at the West Hills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, our traditional site for many years,” says Kol Shalom Vice President Roberta Hellman. “We were thinking of a hybrid service. But as COVID cases started rising in the Portland Metro area, we decided to be cautious and careful, and once again only hold our services on Zoom.”
The services will be open to and without charge for anyone.
“It has truly been disappointing to have to postpone getting together, but our Zoom services were well attended and appreciated last year, and we hope for the same now,” says Roberta. “Here’s to next year in person.”
Registration and service details are available at kolshalom.org.
Congregation Neveh Shalom will offer a mix of in-person outdoor and indoor, which will also be available online, and has shifted some services for young children to Zoom only. Some services that had been planned for indoors will now move to outdoor locations on the synagogue grounds. Young Family Services have been changed to a drive-in service rather than being in the lower courtyard, and the young family Rosh Hashanah service that was scheduled to be in the Stampfer Chapel will be on Zoom.
Services will be held in the main sanctuary for limited in-person attendance and are available on Livestream for members and nonmembers.
“We’re looking at about 200 for the main sanctuary service,” says Senior Rabbi David Kosak, noting that the space holds about 1,100 people. “We believe that this is plenty of physical distancing. … It’s an interesting time of uncertainty. It means a lot of people are going to feel more comfortable participating online. We worked hard to make sure that whatever feels comfortable for each family and each person … there is a way to participate this year.”
Registration is required for Livestream/Zoom services for members and nonmembers: nevehshalom.org/hhdaccess5782/
“We are still evaluating, still discussing and there could be further changes to make to ensure we keep our community safe, and we still provide a meaningful and spiritual High Holiday season,” said CNS President Glen Coblens. “We have seen within the course of the last year and a half, the only thing that really is constant is change. So we have to keep in mind that whatever decisions that we make today might be changed tomorrow, next week or whenever as we get closer to Rosh Hashanah.”
Congregation Shaarie Torah welcomes all who are interested in joining services, space permitting. Members will have priority access. Nonmembers can arrange for visitor tickets by contacting the main office: firstname.lastname@example.org. A voluntary contribution to support the shul is appreciated. Required registration for in-person services can be found on the congregation’s High Holy Day page at shaarietorah.org/hhd.
All those entering the building must be fully vaccinated and wear a mask at all times. Double masking or the use of N-95 masks is recommended, but not required.
All services held in the main sanctuary will be simulcast via the CST website and on Facebook Live for those who prefer to watch from home. The website includes a form for access to an online copy of Mahzor Lev Shalem.
Shaarie Torah Executive Director Jemi Mansfield adds, “If the need arises to put the brakes on in-person services as we’re planning, we can pivot to exclusive streaming with the minimum of people in the sanctuary. Last year, the Sisterhood generously underwrote the cost of not only the HHD production, but also the purchase of equipment that is now installed for regular streaming of Shabbat and holiday services. If we have to, the clergy plus a minyan will broadcast services for everyone else to view remotely.”
Congregation Shir Tikvah will offer limited indoor, in-person services for members, keeping the gatherings small. Attendees are required be vaccinated.
“The pandemic has created a difficult and ever-changing situation for all of us,” says Administrative Director Katie Schneider. “We know our community is precious, and we want to protect it. At the same time, it is difficult to limit access to our services and the ways that we can be together.”
The general public is invited to join services on Zoom. For more information, visit the website calendar at shirtikvahpdx.org or email email@example.com for the Zoom link.
CEDAR SINAI PARK
Plans for seniors at Cedar Sinai Park are in flux, too.
“If nothing else, living in a pandemic has been a constant reminder that the future is unpredictable,” says CSP Spiritual Life Coordinator Cathy Zheutlin.
This year, all of the services and dinners at Cedar Sinai Park are for residents only.
“We are still planning to have live services in Zidell Hall with volunteer service leaders from the community,” says Cathy.
Amy Shapiro and Jeff Olenick, Eddy Shuldman, Len and Elayne Shapiro, Avrel Nudelman, Rabbi Barry Cohen, Laurie Fendel and Rivkah Coburn are leading 11 different services for residents only at Rose Schnitzer Manor. In addition, Len and Elayne Shapiro will lead a Rosh Hashanah Service, and Barbara Slader will lead a Yom Kippur Service for residents of Robison Jewish Health Center and Harold Schnitzer Center for Living.
“We will also have two festive Rosh Hashanah dinners at the Manor,” says Cathy. “Rather than one large gathering at Robison, there will be five separate festive holiday dinners for RJHC and HSCL residents. If we are required to make any changes, our backup plans are for everyone to attend virtual services.”
CSP CEO Kimberly Fuson adds, “As we continue this shared journey through the pandemic, I continue to be deeply moved by the inimitable spirits of our residents, staff, families, trustees, volunteers and community.”