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Arts & Culture

Rabbis Deliver High Holy Days Rituals In Community, Virtually

150921_Shofar_JamesMacDonald_CC-By-2.0.jpg
James MacDonald (CC BY 2.0)
The Shofar is an ancient musical horn typically made of a ram's horn, used for Jewish religious purposes.

Jewish people in Montana and around the world will be celebrating Yom Kippur this Sept. 27 and 28. Two Montanans shared what it means to celebrate one of the most sacred days of the year in Judaism, virtually.

Randi Levin lives near Helena but has been a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Bozeman for the last decade. Normally, Levin makes the 100 mile drive south for the High Holy Days.

“To do rituals in community, knowing that millions of people around the world are doing something very similar, it’s a spiritual experience. It’s a connecting experience. It ties me to my roots of being an American Jew,” Levin said.

But this year is different with the coronavirus pandemic.

Levin was one of nearly 300 people who watched Congregation Beth Shalom’s Rosh Hashanah services from their homes on televisions and computer screens instead of gathering in person, and she’s planning to do the same for Yom Kippur.

Levin said being with other people to celebrate traditions creates a kind of energy that can’t be replaced with a live stream. But she’s grateful that there’s an option during the pandemic to still celebrate the High Holy Days and said there’s comfort knowing other people are also watching from their homes.

Levin said one upside to having virtual services is that people who wouldn’t normally be able to attend in person gatherings can still feel connected, like her mom.

“She lives in the Chicago area. As an example, she’s unable to drive at this time, so her congregation offered a very similar experience, and she was really grateful to be able to have that,” Levin said.

Levin said some members of Beth Shalom who are in a similar situation or live part of the year outside Montana were able to watch the livestream from Bozeman.

Rabbi Mark Kula with Beth Shalom said he expects technology will continue to play a big role in how people connect in life after the pandemic.

“In Montana and across the globe, we can become smaller communities where we’re interconnected, and that would be the blessing of technology,” Kula said.

But he said technology will never replace human interaction.

“One very strong aspect of Jewish communal life is coming together, is celebrating in person, of being diverse, coming from different backgrounds and experiences and all joining together and being in one space,” Kula said.

He said the High Holy Days mark the creation of the world. It’s a time for deep personal introspection and prayer to enter the new year with purpose and virtue.

“The notion that we’re empowered as human beings to transform our lives and the lives of other people into something better is a profound message of this Holy Day season, and it’s a universal message,” Kula said.