Manhattan rabbi talks observing social distancing while celebrating the High Holidays

Youthful Rabbi Diana Fersko, self-described as at the edge of being a millennial, is up for the challenge of joining this new congregation in the middle of the social- distancing pandemic. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)


Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year 5781, begins sundown on Friday, September 18.  It is a time for community. A time for assessment and renewal.  It begins a time to start fresh.

With most in-person synagogues closed in the era of COVID-19 and the practice of social distancing, this is a difficult time for religious or cultural observances. 

 “Social and spiritual interaction is one of the greatest aspects of the High Holidays, says Rabbi Fersko, of Village Temple on E. 12th St.   “To be forced to be distant is acutely painful.”  

To help fill these needs, Village Temple will live-stream services, Friday night at 6:30 pm and Saturday at 10 am, Rabbi Fersko explains.   “We even have a zoom social hour before,” she says. The temple’s website carries all information and how to access the on-line platform.  Tashlich, the traditional casting out of sins, is open for all to participate on Sunday at 11am, at the Hudson Pier at 10th Street.

 “Much of the world is broken,” the rabbi reflects. “This is an opportunity for the Jewish community to nourish themselves. I’m hoping people find comfort and uplift in our religious services.”

Services at the Orthodox congregation Tribeca Synagogue will be held with socially-distanced seating outdoors in its White Street entrance plaza. Formerly Synagogue for the Arts, like many, this synagogue has creatively adapted. 

Tamid, another lower Manhattan congregation has pre-recorded services it will live-stream. Donation/tickets are available for purchase to allow for unique access.  

Tamid’s in-person outdoor experiences to hear the shofar blast, to observe tashlich, and enjoy a BYO Kiddush in Battery Park City at noon on Saturday are open to members, guests, and friends. 

Uniquely, The New Shul is holding socially distanced in-person services at Queens County Farm in an open-air tent with high quality live-stream —donations suggested for both platforms. 

Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), known as the gay synagogue, based on West 30th St. is physically closed until it can re-open in safety.  Annually, up to 4,000 have worshipped at free CBST’s Javitz Center High Holiday services. For years the synagogue also live-streamed services, as it will this year.  Its website reads: All are welcome to share the Days of Awe ONLINE, as an international CBST community, always free of charge. 

Recognizing the difficult times, East End Synagogue is providing free access for non-members to attend its on-line services, registration required. 

And, live streaming is nothing new for pop-up-by-design, artist-driven, Lab/Shul.  Virtual programming this year offers musical worship, schmoozing, cultural programming, or hanging out with kids. Lab/Shul outgrew the Varick Street City Winery, where it first held services and this year they’re back, broadcasting their live-stream from City Winery, the one in the Hudson Valley.

Not an exhaustive list of downtown Jewish houses of worship, of course there are more throughout New York City, adapting High Holiday worship to these pandemic times. Staying in touch and relevant, congregations have recently been using creative and virtual platforms for religious and social outreach and are continuing during these most important days.

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