As if preparing the meal, gathering the family, or securing a seat at temple for the start of the High Holy Days wasn’t stressful enough, an unwanted guest named Irma has added a whole new level of ‘What do I do now? to the start of the Jewish New Year.
As Rosh Hashana begins at sundown Wednesday, some homes and synagogues are still without power in Miami-Dade and Broward. There’s storm damage. Folks evacuated. And some grocery stores have not been able to fully restock staples — not to mention chicken, gefilte fish, liver, brisket and kugel. Non-perishables, like honey, which is used to signify the start of a sweet new year, were snapped up as hurricane supplies a couple weeks ago.
To reach congregants, houses of worship without power or phone service have turned to social media and word of mouth.
Of course, the post-Irma Rosh Hashana will still go forward in South Florida — a little battered, but with a renewed focus on fresh starts, community and sharing.
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Some synagogues expect a larger turnout from congregants who can’t host in their homes or feel a stronger-than-usual need to be with others. Many, including Temple Judea in Coral Gables, The Shul of Bal Harbour, and the Hilda & Lester Greenstein Chabad of Kendall/Pinecrest, have hosted congregations from nearby temples.
Irma, in a profound way, amplifies the meaning of Rosh Hashana.
“This time of year we sound the shofar. We are supposed to hear that sound — like a call to come back to community, to turn back to God and to remember what matters the most,” Rabbi Judith Siegal of Temple Judea said of the blowing of the ram’s horn. “I think this storm has helped us in a sense to do that as well as to remember what’s important: to be grateful for what we have and to reach out to others in need.”
Rabbi Yossi Harlig of the Chabad of Kendall/Pinecrest, which still didn’t have internet or phone service at the start of the week, but had opened its center to shelter and feed people without electricity, concurs.
“On one hand, people are maybe not as focused on signing up to the synagogue. On the other hand, we see Rosh Hashana as an easier to time to focus on the New Year, to focus on what is really important in life. This year Irma forced us to look at life and meaning and purpose.”
Rosh Hashana marks the first day of 10 days of repentance. During the High Holy Days, observant Jews repent for their sins of the previous year and are judged for these sins by God. The 10 days end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest of Jewish holidays. As with the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews are not supposed to use electricity or work during Rosh Hashana as they spend time in reflection.
That has been the call of the shofar this year — it will really be to reach out and help others.
Rabbi Judith Siegal, Temple Judea in Coral Gables.
But preparing the family table, or getting to temple, has become a hardship for many this year. Following strict Jewish rules sometimes prove impossible. For example, Jewish law mandates burial as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours of death. But local cemeteries have been backed up for two weeks as families await burial of loved ones.
“Judaism is very practical even though there are certain customs we adhere to and follow,” Siegal said. “There is also flexibility in Judaism to adjust to reality so for Rosh Hashana maybe not everything will be exactly as ideal as before.”
Synagogues have had to make adjustments to prepare for Rosh Hashana. Some, like Judea and The Shul of Bal Harbour, an Orthodox temple, have invited other congregations to worship with them or have served as shelters and provided community outreach.
The Chabad of South Broward adjusted its Rosh Hashana schedule to offer free catered meals.
“We were open during the hurricane and served as a shelter and people came for meals,” said Lydia Hasson, executive assistant to Rabbi Sholom Lipskar of The Shul of Bal Harbour. “This greatly delayed us and put us all under pressure for getting everything ready for the holidays.”
The synagogues, which sell seats to Rosh Hashana services to fund their yearly operating budgets, are making adjustments.
“Nobody would be turned away without a ticket if we can accommodate,” Hasson said. People who already purchased a seat — which range from $54 to $500 at The Shul — and who show up to service would, naturally, have priority in seating.
Temple Judea is also expecting larger than usual attendance.
“We are being as flexible as possible about welcoming people in for the High Holidays with the assumption they will continue to invest in the community,” said Siegal about the cost of seats. “That’s how we look at it.”
Besides praying, a big part of the holiday is eating. So local delis like Roasters ’n Toasters and Lots of Lox in South Miami-Dade and Mo’s Bagels & Deli and Kosher Kingdom in Aventura are busy filling orders and serving diners.
After Irma, Roasters ’n Toasters served as a makeshift town square for congregants of South Miami-Dade who lost power at their homes or houses of worship. Siegal, of Coral Gables’ Temple Judea, found the deli a perfect place to reach Jewish people in need and spent hours there post-Irma.
“A big role is listening and being there for our congregants,” she said.
David Glas, one of Roasters’ partners, said the chain’s catering business took a hit in holiday business. People had evacuated or came back to homes that were not suitable for cooking or storing food.
“I’ve been here 20 years and have never seen the governor go on TV to tell people to leave,” Glas said. “We had some cancellations. A lot of people’s plans are still up in the air, especially in the Pinecrest area, because they don’t know if they have power and a lot are in the same boat in this community.”
Conversely, business is expected to boom Wednesday evening at Roasters’ new Falls location which, unlike the flagship location near Dadeland on U.S. 1, has dinner hours and will be serving a traditional Rosh Hashana prix fixe meal.
This religious season, Irma’s unintended outcome has been about bringing people together.
“People need to tell their stories. For some, it’s been an inconvenience. But for some it’s been a trauma, and some are re-traumatized because of Andrew. Irma reminded them of that trauma. And even if their houses are not damaged they have been living in houses without electricity for two weeks and that’s uncomfortable and dangerous,” Siegal said.
“Our community has wanted to come out and also reach outside the walls of our synagogue to the Keys and Naples and Tampa and the islands — a synagogue in St. Thomas was destroyed — and also to people in Houston who are still suffering from Harvey and we are looking toward Puerto Rico,” Siegal added.
“That has been the call of the shofar this year — it will really be to reach out and help others.”
If you go
What: Free community meals
Where: Chabad of South Broward, 1295 E. Hallandale Beach Blvd.
When: 8 p.m. dinner Wednesday, 2 p.m. lunch Friday and Shabbat lunch at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Free Meals will continue through Sukkot and Simchat Torah and extend to every Sabbath throughout the whole year.
Information: 954-458-1877 or email your RSVP to Chabadsboffice@gmail.com. To assist, visit sbirmarelief.com.
Also, Roasters ’n Toasters’ new Falls location at 12729 South Dixie Hwy., serves a traditional Rosh Hashana prix fixe meal with three seatings at 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.- 8 p.m. and 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Call 305-726-6565