'A five-star show': Jewish leaders pull out all the stops -- to keep people safely at home for holidays
MONTREAL -- In the Shaare Zion synagogue in Cote-Saint-Luc, there is a sanctuary. Dark wood pews line the floor. Rows of metal lamps hang casting warm light overhead.
In the first few months of the pandemic, Marilyn Hayes would sometimes walk to the synagogue and just slip inside to stand in the sanctuary when there would normally be services.
“Sometimes on a Saturday, I would go, just [to] look at it empty” she said. “I would stand there in awe.”
For the last decade, Hayes has gone to synagogue four times a week, at least until March. And even when many people returned to synagogues across the city, Hayes, at age 78, opted to continue staying home to avoid any risk to her health.
It's been a hard six months, but one move really helped: when the congregation ultimately began livestreaming, she got a different kind of look inside and was moved to tears, beginning to watch weekly.
“That made me very emotional,” said Hayes.
Now the Shaare Zion congregation, and some others, are counting on livestreaming to carry them -- safely -- through the Jewish high holidays coming up.
Entering month six of the pandemic, with major holidays rolling around, people may be tempted to leave their bubbles and relax their social distancing habits. But it would likely be a disastrous time for that, with experts sounding the alarm of an incoming second wave.
So, top-quality livestreaming.
“We’re bringing in a whole production company,” said Asher Tannenbaum, member of the clergy at the Shaare Zion Congregation. “It’s a real five-star show we’re trying to put on.”
'In particular, “we want our senior members to have the best seat in the house, on their sofa," he said.
'HEALTH IS ALSO SACRED'
Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year, begins Saturday and marks the start of the High Holidays: Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Repentance, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Some of Quebec's other Jewish leaders echoed Tannenbaum's concerns recently.
“We must not endanger our neighbor, and we must not endanger ourselves,” reads a recent release from the Unified Sephardic Community of Quebec, undersigned by several doctors.
The release cautions people against gathering indoors and encourages them to wear masks and do physical distancing.
“We know how important these holidays are, but health is also sacred,” it reads.
BRINGING THE HOLIDAYS TO PEOPLE AT HOME
While Shaare Zion offers home programming, others are working to deliver on another major component of the holidays: food.
Staff and volunteers at the MADA Community Centre have spent hours packing boxes of food for people in need.
Usually, MADA hosts community dinners around the city for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
This time, to avoid large gatherings, 5,000 meals will be delivered to the doors of people who need it.
“We really wanted them to still celebrate the holiday with joy and dignity,” said Rabbi Shmuel Pinson, a coordinator at MADA. “The only options to do that is to deliver the meals to their house.”
But Tannenbaum says the real test in the long term will come with people's need for socializing, which is something that many older people in particular rely on the synagogue for.
“We have many members who are elderly and single. They’re lonely,” he said. “I hear it in their voices”
As for Hayes, she says she plans on celebrating the holidays with her family over video calls. “It's sad. It's emotional," she said. But "we do the best with what we have.”
Hayes said she's ready to tackle the next part of the pandemic. “'It is what it is' -- that's one overused phrase," she said.
“The next phrase that will get us through the months to come has four words: ‘You’re on mute.’”
--With files from CTV's Matt Grillo