By Janis Fontaine

The Jewish High Holy Days — Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement — both take place in late September.

In Judaism, these are two of the most important holy days, and services featuring special prayers, feasts with significant foods, and 25 hours of fasting are planned. Congregations gather together with great joy to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the universe during Rosh Hashanah (Sept. 18-20).

Then the devout come together again a week later for Yom Kippur (Sept. 27-28), the holiest day of the year. Having spent time evaluating their lives, repenting their wrongs, praying and fasting, the worshipers are granted acquittal and the cleansing of their sins. The congregation dresses in white for solemn — but not sad — services at the synagogue.

This year, because of COVID-19, communal worship is limited, and some synagogues won’t have in-person services.

Rabbi Shmuel Biston of Chabad of East Delray expects 30 or 40 people to attend his socially distanced, carefully abbreviated services.

“The service will last about 30 minutes,” he said, “and if we get more people wanting to come, we’ll add a second staggered service and clean in between.”

For those who still don’t feel comfortable in a group setting, Chabad of East Delray offers “Stay at Home” kits, so people can mark the holidays at home. The Chabad resumed weekly services in August and Biston meets in private (socially distanced, masks required) with people who are struggling.

“We want to offer any type of safe interaction we can, any way we can connect,” Biston said.

Most of what he does is listen and talk things through, so the phone is good, but in-person is better for some people. “A lot of people are lonely and they really need that personal connection. It’s been tough for some people to adapt.”

Rabbi Joe Fishof of Temple Beth Ami in Boca Raton agrees. “Many are afraid, and we don’t want to subject them to a situation that makes them uncomfortable.”

So, this year, a limited number of members will come to services, but most will watch them on Zoom, Fishof says.

Many synagogues depend on the sale of tickets for these two important holidays for financial support throughout the year, but most have received special donations from members.

“We reminded them, ‘Don’t let the shul suffer,’” Fishof says, “and people were generous.”

Tickets for services are lower in cost this year, from $50 to $120, but these are suggested donations and no one is ever turned away because he can’t pay.

Leaders of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton suggest that with so many in the congregation suffering as a result of COVID, members who have purchased High Holy Day tickets in the past should consider making a donation in the amount they would have spent.

At Beth Ami, two 90-minute services are planned. Guests will be limited to 50. Cleaning is planned in between services. Fishof is keeping most of his sermon under wraps, but he plans to comfort and encourage people whose routines have been disrupted.

“With so many people suffering, we should make an effort to be more compassionate,” he said. “I also want to remind them to be grateful for what they have. I want to tell them to have hope, to pray and stay in faith.”

To Fishof, Yom Kippur is about “cheshbon hanefesh,” a spiritual accounting of the soul. Self-improvement, perfecting one’s character and forging closer relationships with God and our fellow men are the essence of Yom Kippur.    

“It’s about introspection,” Fishof said. “Look inside yourself and ask, ‘How can I be a better person, more compassionate, more understanding this year?’”  

Local services
• Temple Beth Ami — 1401 NW Fourth Ave., Boca Raton.
Temple Beth Ami will hold both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services by reservation only and by following CDC guidelines. Masks will be required. Bring your own hand sanitizer. Temperatures will be taken at the door. Two 90-minute services are planned: 9 to 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with cleaning planned in between. Call for tickets: 561-347-0031.

• Temple Beth El — Schaefer Family Campus, 333 SW Fourth Ave., Boca Raton.
Temple Beth El’s services will be celebrated online. The synagogue invites everyone to watch services livestreaming on the website, Facebook page or YouTube channel. For members, there are additional benefits, like a special High Holy Day gift bag for pickup and the ability to borrow a High Holy Day machzor (prayer book). For more info, call 561-391-8900.

• Boca Beach Chabad — 120 NE First Ave., Boca Raton. 561-394-9770 or
Rabbi Ruvi New said the synagogue plans to host its services at Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center, 201 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, instead of its facility. He said Mizner Park has enough room to accommodate everyone even with social distancing. Ages 12 and older. Some programs require tickets.
Services are as follows:
Rosh Hashanah evening: 7:05 p.m. Sept. 18
First-day Rosh Hashanah: 9 a.m. Sept. 19
Mincha: First-day Rosh Hashanah: 7:05 p.m. Sept. 19
Second-day Rosh Hashanah: 9 a.m. Sept. 20
Shofar sounding: 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20
Mincha: 6 p.m. Sept. 20, followed by tashlich and second shofar blowing at the Intracoastal at the northwest corner (Wildflower) of east Palmetto Park Road and Fifth Avenue, Boca Raton, at 6:45 p.m.
Kol Nidrei: 7 p.m. Sept. 27. Reservations required. Seats are $120.
Yom Kippur morning: 9 a.m. Sept. 28
Yizkor memorial: Noon Sept. 28. Reservations required. Seats are $72.
Mincha: 5:15 p.m. Sept. 28
Neilah closing service: 6:15 p.m. Sept. 28

Additional events:
The synagogue will host Mincha at 3:15 p.m. Sept. 27 at the synagogue.
Three special children’s programs are planned at the synagogue: first-day Rosh Hashanah at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19; second-day: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20; and Yom Kippur: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 28

• Chabad of East Delray — 10 SE First Ave., Delray Beach.
An outdoor shofar-blowing and shortened services in both Hebrew and English are planned complying with social distancing guidelines. All seats are reserved. Adults only. Masks required. Between services, the shul will be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly. A donation of $50 is suggested.
For congregation members who feel more comfortable staying at home, kits are available for pickup with a selection of the key prayers and insights, apple and honey, challah and candles. To reserve a kit, email
Services are:
First-day Rosh Hashanah: 10-10:45 a.m. Sept. 19.
Second-day Rosh Hashanah: 10-10:45 a.m. Sept. 20.
Outdoor shofar blowing: 5 p.m. Sept. 20 (location TBA)
Kol Nidrei: 7:15-7:45 p.m. Sept. 27
Yom Kippur day: 10-10:45 a.m. Sept. 28
Neilah: 7:15-7:45 p.m. Sept. 28

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