NEW YORK - When Diana Fersko started her new role as senior rabbi at The Village Temple back in July, not only did she have to balance the challenges of a new job but she was tasked with figuring out how to conduct High Holiday services amid a global pandemic.

"In normal times, the High Holidays are celebrated with a packed sanctuary. You're literally sitting next to somebody who's sitting next to somebody very closely packed in, in a room. And it's very powerful," said Senior Rabbi Fersko.

What You Need To Know

  • Friday night marks the beginning of the most sacred season of the Jewish calendar, which includes Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur

  • In normal times, the High Holidays serve as moments of great spiritual intensity and chances to gather socially for the Jewish community

  • Frank DiLella takes a look at how one synagogue is reinventing during this time of renewal

Despite the limitations that COVID-19 presented, Fersko brainstormed ways to make her first major service of the year as interactive as possible despite being virtual.

"I really sort of took Jewish history as inspiration and said, you know, 'What did Jews in the past do when they faced challenges to their worship?'" Fersko said. "One thing I noticed is that there's always a response to crisis with creativity ... And what that led me to do was really embrace technology. I figure if people are at home watching a screen, we should make that screen as visually interesting and stimulating as humanly possible.

"The filming allowed us to capture moments that we otherwise could not have in our services in this climate. So for instance, the blowing of the shofar, obviously it's an instrument that would blow particles everywhere. We were able to figure out a way to do that and then put it on film.

"I've learned a lot of new vocabulary words to be honest," Fersko said. "This is not what I learned in rabbinical school."

The reformed temple located in downtown Manhattan even invited a few congregants to participate in person for the filming, staggered, with safety precautions in place. Former Congregation President Julie Salamon was called upon.

"If we can carry on this tradition in the middle of a pandemic, I think that speaks more strongly to the power of the tradition than, you know, getting dressed up and going to a nice place. I think doing it this way takes real commitment," said Salamon.

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