Rabbi Zalman Gurevitz, of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, would typically be planning a large worship service and feast in celebration of Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah, also referred to as the Jewish New Year, begins the 10 days of repentance ending in Yom Kippur.
“It’s a new year, so it’s a time for new blessings and time to make new resolutions,” Gurevitz said. “If everyone does good things, then the world will be a better place.”
However, in light of the pandemic, he plans to offer to-go meals and small, staggered services throughout the day for Jewish students at WVU instead of a large celebration.
“This year, we don’t expect many students to participate, so we’re trying to create a safe environment,” Gurevitz said.
The celebration will begin with a one-and-a-half-hour service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, followed by a series of 10-minute services beginning at 1 p.m. Students will have the option to take a meal to go after the closing of each service.
In an effort to create a safe environment, Gurevitz set up tents in the parking lot of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center, which will allow enough space for proper social distancing for up to 21 people at a time.
Singing is traditionally part of the holiday’s celebration, but Gurevitz has canceled all singing activities for Sunday. COVID-19 may be highly transmissible in certain settings involving large groups and singing, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gurevitz said that the most important tradition of the holiday is the sounding of the shofar, a ram’s horn, which will take place during Sunday’s celebration.
No electronics are permitted at a traditional celebration of Rosh Hashanah, according to Gurevitz, so no virtual options will be offered to participants.
However, other synagogues may celebrate in different ways.
The Tree of Life Congregation, a Reform synagogue on South High Street, plans to celebrate the Jewish New Year through YouTube and Facebook Live.
“Religion is about community more than anything else,” said Rabbi Joseph Hample of the Tree of Life congregation. “People go to the synagogue, or church, or mosque for a thousand reasons, I imagine, but whatever else they’re looking for, they’re also looking for community.”
Hample has spent the past six weeks recording the worship services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and he has prepared songs for the children of his congregation.
“It’s an opportunity, also, to rethink and redesign the whole program, to embrace new technologies,” Hample said.
According to Hample, his greatest challenge is being present for his congregation.
“Circulating and talking to everybody, that’s the most important thing I do for my congregation,” Hample said. “I don’t know how to do it now.”
According to Gurevitz, this is the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center’s 13th year celebrating the Jewish High Holidays with University students.
“The goal of our organization is to enable Jewish students to celebrate Jewish life at WVU,” Gurevitz said.
For the last few weeks, the center has offered Shabbat dinners to-go for Jewish students, in place of a traditional meal on the Sabbath.
“It’s challenging to get people in, but we hope once the dust settles on this pandemic, we’ll kind of restart everything,” Gurevitz said.
He also said that it has been difficult to reach out to freshmen this semester. Gurevitz believes in-person activities, such as tabling events, are the best way to accommodate Jewish students on campus.
“Because there’s such a low population of Jewish students, it’s much harder to get the word out,” Gurevitz said.
Jewish students only make up 2 to 4% of the student population at WVU, according to Gurevitz.
He hopes that once the University resumes in-person classes, it will present opportunities to him and the Rohr Chabad Jewish Center.
“We’re here for the in-person sense of community,” said Gurevitz. “A challenge is just a bump in the road.”