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Strict Israeli COVID-19 Lockdown Won’t Stop Yom Kippur Prayers

Praying at Israeli Synagogue During COVID
Praying at Israeli Synagogue During COVID

Jewish people around the world will mark Yom Kippur on Monday.  It’s usually a time of corporate prayer in synagogues. But the coronavirus has presented new challenges.

Each year, people travel to Jerusalem from around the world to pray at The Great Synagogue and hear the choir. For the first time in more than 60 years, the synagogue is closed and will not hold High Holy Day services. That, however, isn’t stopping prayer.

“The synagogue may be closed, but the Gates of Heaven are open,” said Elli Jaffe, world renowned conductor and choir director at The Great Synagogue.

"When we knew that the synagogue will not be open, I got some ideas.  Let's bring the atmosphere of the synagogue, part of it, to this place; whoever will come, will come,” Jaffe told CBN News.

“We'll bring some members of the choir.  I will conduct the service in dual function, both as conductor and as a cantor,” Jaffe explained.

During Rosh Hashanah last weekend, Jaffe and a few choir members held services outside his residence. The sound was heavenly.

For the special Slichot prayers between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the small gathering moved to his balcony.

“This time was a difficult time.  So we want to really repent and to become better people and to wait for the Messiah to come after such a disaster year,” Jaffe said.

In Leviticus 16:29-31, the Bible says: “This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.

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For 25 hours, Jewish people fast from food and even water and usually spend much of that time praying in the synagogue.

Since the March lockdown, morning and evening prayer services have moved outside in neighborhood parks, streets outside synagogues and elsewhere.

“We are trying to shorten the service (so) that the people will be able to adjust themselves, not to get too tired.  But, we hope to do the best and that God should hear our prayers,” said Jaffe.

On Yom Kippur, some synagogues will open for a limited number of worshippers but despite the hot weather, many will likely be praying outside. 

Though Orthodox Jews won’t turn on electricity on holidays, the more liberal Reform Movement here says it will live-stream its Yom Kippur prayers.

Even with the difficulty of the situation, Jaffe believes it’s important to see the good in everything.

“The virus brought a lot of tragedies.  Many people died.  Many people are sick, but on the other hand, it brought people together.  It brought unity and it brought love between people,” he said.

And there are lessons to be learned.

“Love the other person. Give charity and always think of the Almighty. That's the best thing to do. He never leaves you, even if you think He does. We don't understand everything He does. It's not for us to understand. That's the way, and keep smiling,” he added with a broad smile.

Why does Judaism matter and how is it connected to Christianity? Learn more here.

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