Celebrating the holy days safely and in person

Local cantor organizes outdoor Rosh Hashanah service.

Photo courtesy of Scott Borsky

Cantor Scott Borsky made a promise to his congregation.

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the founder of Synagogue Without Walls promised he would find a way to safely host the Jewish High Holy Days in person.

Borsky hopes to deliver on that promise on Saturday, Sept.19, when he will lead a service for Rosh Hashanah at Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown. He plans to use the facility’s outdoor amphitheater, where families can spread out as they celebrate the first of the holy days.

Borsky said while many of the mainstream synagogues in South Jersey made a joint agreement to opt out of in-person services and go entirely virtual for the upcoming holidays, he didn’t agree with the choice. He believes with so much negativity in the world, people want to come together in prayer.

Throughout the summer, Liberty Lake Day Camp has successfully held camps with hundreds of participants and staff on its premises. It did so safely, without a single camper or staff member testing positive for COVID.  Borsky said the camp showed him there are still ways for people to  gather safely. 

“That is such a blessing — all of the protocols that they put in place there,  we will do exactly the same,” Borsky noted. “Liberty Lake set an example to all of us how we can still come together in love and prayer without having to worry.”

Upon arrival, attendees at the September service will have their temperatures checked. Once there, they can gather on a bench or bring their own blankets to spread out on the grass. In the event of inclement weather, tents will be at the ready.

For those who arrive without masks, some will be provided, and the synagogue asks that attendees wear one when they are not 6 feet apart.  Amphitheater seating can accommodate hundreds of people spaced at that distance, and the venue is equipped with a sound system so everyone can hear the service regardless of where they’re seated, according to Borsky. 

“Common sense will prevail and love for others, and concern for others will prevail; we certainly know folks will follow guidelines,” Borsky said. 

Even though the service will look a bit different this year, Borsky still considers it a blessing that people can come together, even if it means wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart from one another.

In Judaism, Rosh Hashanah celebrates the start of a new year. The ceremony traditionally calls for the blowing of a ram’s horn to symbolize  the awakening of the soul. Borsky said listening to that call just isn’t the same online as it is in person. 

Rosh Hashanah is customarily welcomed with sliced apples and honey. The circular shape of an apple represents the symbolic circle of life, while the honey symbolizes the hope for sweetness in the new year. For safety purposes, all apple slices and honey at the service will be individually packaged and wrapped for those who would like to keep with tradition and  eat them.

To cut down on the number of items attendees have to touch, worshippers will be sent a digital copy of the service’s prayer book. Attendees can scroll through and read along on their phones during the ceremony. Physical prayer books will be provided upon request. 

Borsky said despite the unusual setting, the service will be as traditional as the ones he’s held in the past at The Mansion in Voorhees. Worshippers are encouraged to bring family and friends, and thus far, more than 100 people plan to attend.

“It will be like my normal services that I hold each and every year, (but) in addition, it’ll be more engagement, so folks can truly be together in this season of COVID and pray our way through the sadness into a new year filled with hope and dreams and health,” he explained. 

Borsky said if all goes well, he’ll host an in-person service for Yom Kippur as well. 

The Rosh Hashanah service will take place at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 19, at  Liberty Lake Day Camp, 1195 Florence Columbus Road in Bordentown. There is no cost, but those who plan to attend must RSVP to Borsky via email at CantorSBorsky@gmail.com or via text, (267)971-8799.