Chabad adjusts to pandemic to celebrate high holidays
by Michael Perlman
Sep 22, 2020 | 897 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rabbi Mendy Hecht demonstrates the shofar.
Rabbi Mendy Hecht demonstrates the shofar.
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The pandemic has presented many challenges for congregants celebrating the Jewish holidays, but Chabad of Forest Hills North has been determined to find creative ways to maintain traditions.

Services are held in the Chabad’s gardens at 110-40 70th Road while maintaining all COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety. Seats are complimentary, but donations were being accepted in advance and between the holidays.

Rosh Hashanah eve on September 18 consisted of a pre-holiday zoom program and evening services. Day one on September 19 featured morning services and a children’s program, and day two on September 20 consisted of morning services, children’s program, and shofar sounding.

Besides holding services outdoors, “Shofar In The Park” at Yellowstone Park on September 20 attracted nearly 50 attendees.

Looking forward, Yom Kippur Eve consists of a pre-holiday zoom program in the evening. Yom Kippur Day on September 28 features morning services, children’s program, Yizkor service, and a “Break-Fast To-Go.” RSVP at ChabadFHN.com.

Another new feature to maintain observance during the pandemic was the “DIY High Holidays 5781 Experience In A Box,” since some congregants preferred staying home. The “Shana Tovah” gift bag features a High Holiday handbook with select prayers, apple honey sticks, gourmet honey cake, a “wishing you a stress-free year” distressing ball, and fun and educational children’s activities.

“This is a practical approach,” said Rabbi Mendy Hecht, who founded the Chabad with Rebbetzin Chaya Hecht. “Some people are at home, so it led to an idea to deliver them something meaningful. We also owe thanks to our Chabad headquarters which work tirelessly. Some contents we customized and created in conjunction with them.”

The Chabad has not conducted services or events in a physical sense since Purim in March. Some congregants have been staying home since the pandemic’s onset.

“At this time, we are not having everyone gather in the same place,” Rabbi Hecht explained. “Outdoor services in the Chabad’s garden can accommodate up to 30 people at the maximum.

“We are going the extra mile to make sure that everything is healthy, clean, and always fresh,” he added. “We invested in portable restrooms along with two additional outdoor wash basins with a divider for social distancing. Soap and individual bottles of Purell are also provided.”

There is a greater message to be taken from the pandemic’s challenges, Rabbi Hecht said.

“The Neshama or soul of a Jew is yearning and asking to reunite,” he explained. “A Jew has that spark which never extinguishes, and now we are witnessing how people naturally want to reunite. The holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot each represent unity in a different way.

“We live in this world to find meaning and everything is really for the good and meant to shed some light, which the holidays reinforce,” Rabbi Hecht added. “We are seeing the true essence of the pandemic, where people have become more mature and learned to fight a battle that they never had to face. People are watching family members suffer, but then recover. We are witnessing miracles.”
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