Bay Area synagogues hold outdoor in-person services for Rosh Hashanah

Last year the COVID-19 pandemic caused virtually all Rosh Hashanah prayer services at Bay Area synagogues to be streamed online, rather than in person. This week, synagogues are navigating the complexities of hybrid services and outdoor gatherings.

On Monday evening at Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, songs and melodies accompanied by an acoustic guitar marked the start of the Jewish New Year for zoom-fatigued families participating in Camp Towanga's Erev Rosh Hashanah children's services.

"It feels different, amazing. I can't believe this is happening, like so many people!" nine-year-old Julius Goodman said, happy to see his friends in-person again.

Close to 1,200 people attended Tawonga's services in the park. on par with Camp Tawonga's pre-pandemic crowd, according to Jamie Simon, Tawonga's executive director. Last year, the camp's annual outdoor services were entirely online.

"We were so excited to gather in person. Part of it was that most of our community is vaccinated. Everybody 12 and older is vaccinated. And for the younger kids, they're masked. We felt it was safe to gather outside," Simon said, adding that the community was craving in-person connection.

"It doesn't feel right to have to do it on Zoom in our house by ourselves," Jason Edelstein, whose two daughters attended Monday's services in the park, said. "To be here with friends, the kids running around with activities, it's really what Rosh Hashanah is supposed to feel like for us."

Judy Goodman brought her two sons to the park because her Berkeley synagogue was not hosting in-person services on Monday, and she was not interested in streaming from home. She found outdoor services at Berkeley's Urban Adamah to attend instead of watching her congregation's Livestream.

Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland is hosting hybrid Rosh Hashanah services for the first time. The courtyard has seating for 160 people for in-person services, the largest in-person gathering the synagogue has had in the pandemic.

Congregants who attend in person must attest to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, except for children under the age of 12 who are ineligible for vaccines. All attendees are required to wear a mask at all times.

Temple Beth Abraham has more than 800 members. To allow more people to have a chance for in-person worship, synagogue members pre-book one service from a selection of time slots available on Rosh Hashanah, or choose one service on Yom Kippur to attend. All additional services will be available to them via the synagogue's Livestream on YouTube.

"That's very complicated, but that's the point." Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham said. "We're all making these incredibly complicated hybrid models so people can come together."

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