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Menorah Park prepares for High Holy Days

Posted September 01, 2021 in Articles


Even though the delta variant of the coronavirus is raging, spiritual leaders at two Jewish long-term care facilities say services for Rosh Hashanah from Sept. 6 to Sept. 8 and Yom Kippur on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 will largely fall in line with ones held before COVID-19 effectively shut them down in 2020. Back to normal? Not quite, but on the way.

A ‘family feeling’

“Last year, there were no group services and residents relied upon special broadcasts on our in-house cable TV system to watch services, enjoy a sing-a-long, or take a Torah class about the holidays,” Rabbi Akiva Feinstein, director of spiritual living at Menorah Park in Beachwood, told the Cleveland Jewish News. “Rabbis brought experiences to residents, taking the necessary safety precautions. This year we will still have precautions, but depending on the local situation, we can make use of a few different modalities – small in-person services with special precautions, a hybrid television option, custom lo-cal mini-services on the pavilions – a bit of a blend to ensure spiritual enrichment for each individual.”

In 2020, services at Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus were pre-taped because of the pandemic, said Rabbi Debbie Lefton, director of spiritual care at WHV.

Services were held in individual apartments or rooms or in public places with groups no larger than 10. Residents got a special holiday kit with a message from Lefton, candle sticks, apples and honey, and a prayer book for worship on their own. Outside of Zoom sessions, “it was a much more difficult holiday, and if you lived alone, you celebrated alone,” Lefton recalled.

This Rosh Hashanah, meals, which require reservations, will be held in the WHV dining room. There will be two seatings. In addition, services will be held in person for WHV members and residents of its campus. “We are not able to have families yet,” Lefton said. “We are about halfway back.”

Still, with or without families, there will be a “family feeling,” Feinstein vowed. “We plan to offer special meals for the holidays so residents can enjoy the tastes and the memories of apples and honey, a good brisket, chicken soup with matzah balls, and a nice sweet honey cake for desert. Besides the food the spiritual living and life enrichment staff will make rounds at the dining areas, reciting kiddush, singing songs and wishing each other a sweet year while dipping their apples in honey. Residents can still enjoy visits from their own families, take in some sun outside in the patios, or sit and schmooze in the sukkah.”

Caution required

At Menorah Park – and this applies all across its community of facilities – services will be held in each building as well as the synagogue. Not only does that expand options for residents, Feinstein said, “it allows us to reduce crowds by staging in multiple venues,” reinforcing the social distancing the virus continues to demand. In addition, recorded services will be available in all resident rooms.

Both Feinstein and Lefton stressed the need for mindfulness in light of the Delta variant assault. Both also emphasized that their respective institutions are ready for the imminent High Holy Days. At the start of the pandemic, Lefton noted, “We did a ‘what-if’ scenario,” speculating on food and supply shortages that never came to pass. Planning ahead staved that off.

“It’s senior living, so we’re constantly changing; people are very resilient in terms of going with the flow with the COVID virus.,” she said. “We’ve been very lucky we have not had an outbreak of the virus. With communication from the governor and the rules of the Centers for Disease Control, people are very understanding.

“It has helped tremendously that we have been able to have family visit on campus again. It stopped and started depending on the numbers in the community, based on whether a member was being isolated back from the hospital. It’s been continuous for quite some time now.”

Flexibility helps

Several factors determined Menorah Park’s adjustments to High Holy Days protocol.

“On one hand, our medical staff urged caution, citing a concern for an uptick in delta variant cases in September and October despite our almost 100-percent resident vaccination rate,” Feinstein said. ”Therefore, we needed to reduce crowding and also limit mixing of outside, non-resident family members among the general group.”

At the same time, Menorah Park recognized the importance of these High Holy Days “to our residents’ emotional and spiritual well-being, considering that missing a single normal Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur would be sad and challenging, but missing two tends to take away the hope for a return to normal and can be a very heavy burden. We all need these holidays … to be able to start a new year fresh and put much of the pain and challenges behind us.”

Lefton said she expects residents will go out to dinner with family during the High Holy Days now that “they know how to protect themselves from COVID and have a little more sense of freedom to return to their normal activities. I have been doing all of Shabbat worship, holidays, festivals, on Zoom during the pandemic, and now I am 100% back in person.”

How does that make her feel?

“Very thankful,” she said.

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