Elgin's Kneseth Israel to host virtual High Holidays

The Jewish High Holy Days begin Friday, Sept. 18. Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin will be having services and other programming throughout the 10-day period. All of their programming will be virtual and online during this unprecedented time. It is open to the public through advance registration.

"Our overriding value is pekuach nefesh, preserving the life and safety of every member, especially the most vulnerable," said Dan Knopoff, Congregation Kneseth Israel's ritual chairman. "Many of us are sad that we won't be together in the building and many of us are relieved that we can still participate together. We will be together, just online."

Many of the traditional touchpoints will be preserved. The unique High Holy Day melodies will once again be chanted by their cantorial soloist. The haunting sounds of the shofar will be echo through the community. Prayers for a sweet new year, for renewal and reconciliation will be said. The rabbi still will teach about the meaning of these days. Kol Nidre will be sung and expertly played on the cello by Elgin Symphony Orchestra cellist Sara Sitzer.

"We wanted to make sure that people could enjoy the High Holy Days even if it meant in new ways. We wanted to make sure that the community knew that our doors are still open to all - on Zoom. Anyone can come worship with us. You just need to register online in advance," said Risa Cohen, president of Congregation Kneseth Israel.

"And we have added some new-to-us traditions. On the second night of Rosh Hashanah we will have. Rosh Hashanah Seder. Much like Passover, we will have a chance to enjoy different foods in a set order and to say the prayer thanking G-d for keeping us alive, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this moment," said Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein. This year the focus of the year will be on kindness, chesed, in Hebrew. "Where have you found people being kind, even in this time? How do we keep this ancient tradition vibrant and meaningful? How do we find hope? Right here in Judaism."

In fact, the ritual committee team has been working on providing meaningful services for this holiday season since the day after Passover.

Dan Knopoff said, "A lot of thought and intention has gone into providing services that will be meaningful, engaging and a way to keep the community together, even while we are separate."

In order to help celebrate, each family will receive a bag with "Gear for the New Year." It will include a prayer book on loan, activities to do at home, special readings and some treats like apples and honey and apple cake. For families with children of Torah School age, they will receive a shofar that they can make together as a family.

"The one commandment for Rosh Hashanah is to hear the voice of the shofar. We want to make sure that every family that wants to can participate in that special sound. It is both an alarm clock calling us to wake up, the sound of crying and celebration and a sound of comfort. It is like no other so we are making sure people have ways to do that in many different ways, not just in the synagogue itself," added Rabbi Frisch Klein.

One way to do that is to participate in the special preparatory educational programs.

This week, on Thursday evening, Sept. 10 is all about shofar. "I am not the best shofar blower in the congregation, but I have successfully taught others for years how to do this. It is exciting. We will look at some texts about shofar, talk about how to make one, hear a variety of different people blow shofar and learn to do it," Rabbi Frisch Klein said.

Torah School will begin with special activities for all ages on Zoom on Sunday, Sept. 13.

"It is really important for our students who come from 11 different school systems have a chance to learn about their Jewish heritage and beauty of the Jewish holidays. Each of our teachers has been working all summer to make this an exciting, innovative year with ages appropriate and Zoom appropriate activities. The kids are really looking forward to being together again, even on Zoom and the teachers have continued to bond together as a team, becoming friends," said Heather Weiser, educational director.

In addition, both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will have a Family Service that kids and their parents and grandparents can participate in fully.

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we will explore the Book of Jonah, one of our Yom Kippur texts. On Thursday, Sept. 24, Anita Silvert, a gifted theater director will help us see ourselves as Jonah through bibliodrama. On Friday, Sept. 25, Mike Montgomery, interim director of Food for Greater Elgin, will help us understand food insecurity and why Isaiah asked in G-d's name, "Is this the fast I desire? No, rather, it is to feed the hungry."

For more information and the full schedule of High Holy Day events, contact Congregation Kneseth Israel, or by phone (847) 741-5656.

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