Rosh Hashanah Celebration in the COVID-19 Era

For centuries, Jews have celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, by gathering as a community for services in synagogues around the world, praying and hearing the unique sound of the blowing of the shofar. This year should have been no different. However, with a global pandemic resulting in countless canceled trips, events and activities, Rosh Hashanah services seemed like an impossibility.

But for many, the thought of Rosh Hashanah passing without hearing the simple wail of the shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, was hard to imagine. Chaya Orenstein, co-director of Tigard Chabad Jewish Center explains, “From the time I was a baby, I came to Shul every year on Rosh Hashanah. Before I was old enough to read the prayers, or really understand much, I knew that the sound of shofar meant the beginning of the new year. For my own children not to celebrate Rosh Hashana with that special symbolism, was unthinkable to me.” 

COVID-19 has changed the way people work, shop, play and interact with others. Stores, schools, restaurants and businesses have adapted to new social norms, transitioning online, and using creative methods to stay afloat and relevant to consumers. For Jewish organizations, the challenge was to bring the services and spirituality to those at home.

Tigard Chabad Jewish Center, established in 2019, reacted immediately to the shutdown, and transitioned to Zoom lectures and activities, reaching out via phone and other methods to maintain a sense of community, and checking in on those home alone. The weekly challah deliveries particularly touched the community. Jason Metzker, retired engineer and enthusiastic Jewish Center participant, wrote to Rabbi Orenstein, “Thank you so much for reaching out to me during this pandemic. It gives me great pleasure to be part of a caring and giving community.”

But how to bring the shofar experience to the people in a safe way? Some out of the box, or rather out of the synagogue thinking, and shofar in the park was born. Rabbi Menachem Orenstein, director of Tigard Chabad Jewish Center, explains, “It’s a great way to safely connect and welcome in the New Year. After months of lockdown and challenging times for us all, to have the opportunity to join together and listen to the sounds of the shofar that have been blown for millennia, will uplift and inspire.”

Rabbi Orenstein emphasizes the timeliness of the Shofar’s message. “The Shofar is a symbol of new beginnings, the sound of G-d’s love for us, and a reminder of the power of simple authenticity. I’m excited for Shofar in the Park, as it’s something so needed. I look forward to the opportunity to safely connect with others in the community, celebrating ancient Jewish traditions, with a 2020 twist of masks and social distancing.”

Taking place outside on Sept. 20 at Summerlake Park in Tigard, Shofar in the Park will follow all health protocols, including pre-registration, masks and distancing. There will be several shofar blowings throughout the day, to ensure ample space and a safe environment for all to come and celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Register at www.jewishtigard.com/shofar.

Tigard Chabad Jewish Center is a home for the Jewish community and provides opportunities for Jews of all levels of observance and experience to explore their Jewish identity and deepen their spiritual connection. Tigard Chabad is directed by Rabbi Menachem and Chaya Orenstein. The Orenstein’s are passionate about spreading the joy of Judaism and bringing Jews from all backgrounds together to celebrate Jewish life.