A bittersweet new year: For some, this Rosh Hashanah is cancelled

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A bittersweet new year: For some, this Rosh Hashanah is cancelled

For Jewish communities, new restrictions announced by Boris Johnson are set to scupper celebrations for the High Holy Days with extended family and friends

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Anti-virus screens around the bimah at South Hampstead synagogue
Anti-virus screens around the bimah at South Hampstead synagogue

Families face spending the Jewish new year apart after the government announced a ban on social gatherings of more than six people.

Rolling back the recent easing of lockdown, Boris Johnson told the nation that from Monday it will become illegal to assemble in groups of seven or more anywhere in England, whether indoors or out, in an effort to halt a second wave of coronavirus. 

Prior to the announcement, groups of up to 30 people were legally allowed to gather, as were two households, but any assemblies of seven or more could now be subject to fines of £100 or even arrest.

For Jewish communities across England, the new restrictions – which are expected to last for months – are set to scupper celebrations for Rosh Hashanah or the end of the Yom Kippur fast with extended family and friends.

Synagogues are permitted to hold greater numbers, but there is a restriction on people gathering in groups larger than six within these venues or mixing socially. Weddings and funerals can, however, still go ahead with groups of up to 30 people. 

Ahead of the High Holy Days, the United Synagogue (US) has requested congregants to pre-book services, which are still expected to take place, although further discussion may yet be needed on the impact of these latest restrictions, including blowing the shofar for congregants.

Richard Verber, director of communications at the US, said: “We know for many of our members the centuries-old evocative services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a highlight of the Jewish year. 

“We were pleased to receive confirmation from the government that services can take place in our synagogues in a Covid-secure way. We know there are many factors for our communities to consider as they reassess their careful and detailed plans in the coming days in light of the prime minister’s announcement. Protecting our members’ health remains paramount.

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“In addition to security concerns, this year more than ever we will be asking our members not to socialise before or after the services and to make their way to and from shul in a socially distanced way.”

Meanwhile, both Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism have announced all services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will only take place online, as they have since lockdown began in March.

Rabbi Celia Surget, chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, said: “Reform Judaism and its communities place pikuach nefesh [preservation of human life] above all else.

“Our communities have responded over the past six months with creative and engaging ways to enable meaningful community online. As our High Holy Day services are able to go ahead, we would welcome anyone to join.”

The latest restriction on social gatherings was announced as it was revealed yesterday that 2,659 people tested positive for coronavirus, while cases among 20 to 29-year-olds have risen sharply from nine per 100,000 to 28 per 100,000 over the past two months.

Sacks Morasha classroom as schools returned from lockdown. (Marc Morris Photography)

In Hertsmere, which has one of the largest Jewish populations in the UK, there has been a “small, but growing number of positive Covid-19 cases” among young people, with Hertfordshire Country Council warning residents it may be forced to take “more restrictive measures” if the rise is not curtailed.

This week, the Radlett-based Hertsmere Jewish Primary School reported “several” confirmed cases of Covid-19, resulting in all children from Year 2 and one class in Year 5 asked to stay at home and self-isolate, alongside members of staff. 

Meanwhile, a number of Year 13 students at Yavneh College in Borehamwood also tested positive, just days before pupils returned for the new school year. 

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