Finchley Reform runs Covid-friendly ‘drive-in’ Rosh Hashanah service

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Finchley Reform runs Covid-friendly ‘drive-in’ Rosh Hashanah service

The community took to the car park of Saracens’ rugby stadium for Yom tov sessions, complete with shofar-blowing and a sterilised speaker for each vehicle

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Rosh Hashanah drive in session!
Rosh Hashanah drive in session!

Putting together an innovative service for Rosh Hashana which will keep the attention of adults and children alike is always a challenge — but this year, the difficulties of doing that in the face of new coronavirus rules seemed overwhelming.

But not to Rabbi Miriam Berger and the team at Finchley Reform Synagogue, who produced a drive-in Rosh Hashana service set to go down in the congregation’s history.

Instead of, as in previous years, the whole congregation going inside the Saracens’ rugby stadium for its High Holy Day services, the community took to the car park for three gloriously noisy Yom tov sessions, complete with shofar-blowing. (The congregation of Mill Hill United Synagogue used the indoor facilities instead, this year). 

Rosh Hashanah drive-in session

Rabbi Berger told Jewish News: “It was difficult at first for people to get their heads around the idea of a drive-in service, and to understand that they wouldn’t be marooned in their car on their own”.  

Instead, and operating under strict coronavirus conditions, each car driver was directed to a place in the car park — to be joined by 80 cars at the first service and 120 at the second — handed a sterilised speaker for the car, plus a honey stick and an apple. Hazard warning lights were used if people needed to be escorted by stewards to the restrooms. 

Car drivers were the only ones permitted to have their window open, although Rabbi Berger observed drily “a creative use of your sunroof” from a number of families. Finchley Reform’s regular under fives service “Kuddle Up Shabbat” got a look-in, too, as Tevye the Torahsaurus, who makes kiddush with the children, arrived in at least one car.

Finchley Reform’s serice was heard from the comfort of peoples’ cars.

The first two services, aimed at families, featured the synagogue’s regular Rhythm and Jews band and Rabbi Berger, while the third, evening service for adults, attracted 110 more cars and allowed people to participate with torches and phone lights, creating, said the rabbi, “a really lovely atmosphere”. 

It had taken quite a time to put together, the rabbi admitted. “Drive-ins haven’t really been a feature in this country. We used the sound engineers whom we would normally use on the High Holy Days and we hired screens from Leeds. We’ve been having regular Zoom services and those have worked well, but I do think people were craving that sense of community that they have been without for so long, and that’s why the drive-in for Rosh Hashana was so successful”. 

Drivers were under strict instructions

The big question now, of course, is what the community will do for Yom Kippur. “It’s a different vibe at Yom Kippur”, said Rabbi Berger. “We have a moment during the Musaf  service when people approach the bimah, and simply stand for as long as they need, in reflection. So we have created an opportunity for people to book a slot to do that and face the Ark during Musaf, in a service”. 

And there are no plans for a car park revisit for Succot, either. Finchley Reform, at the time of writing, is planning — of course — something different: community fruit-picking. “We’re hoping that can still go ahead” said the rabbi.

Cars line up to listen to the drive-in Rosh Hashanah session
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