Before Shabbat on Friday afternoon, May 1, David Goldfarb drove to Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth (HPCT-CAE) to see the rabbi. Not in his office or the sanctuary, however, as the synagogue has been closed to worshippers for weeks due to coronavirus restrictions.
Instead, Goldfarb, who lives in Highland Park and has been a member of the temple since 1989, stayed in his car as Rabbi Eliot Malomet Malomet, wearing a mask and gloves, handed out Shabbat care packages to Goldfarb and other congregants lining up in their vehicles along the synagogue’s driveway. The rabbi was assisted by Chazzan Michael Weis and executive director Linda Tondow.
“We drove in, rolled down the back window, and the rabbi, chazzan, and Linda put the food items, along with an encouraging letter with this week’s Torah portion from Malomet, into the back seat,” said Goldfarb. “It was wonderful. Attending services is so much a part of our community we have lost for the time being. This gave us some of it back.”
With face-to-face worship and socializing on hold by the pandemic, synagogues are looking to connect with their congregants in safe, socially distanced ways. Malomet, the synagogue’s spiritual leader since 1994, spearheaded the “COME-TO-THE-BACK-OF-THE-SHUL & PICK-UP-A-FRESH-CHALLAH & GRAPE-JUICE” initiative. Eighty of the congregation’s estimated 400 families participated, and challah and grape juice were also delivered to the homes of members unable to drive to
“We are not a temple that streams its services, and I wanted to figure out a way to bring our congregation together,” the rabbi said in a telephone interview. “We missed our people and it was wonderful to see everybody.”
Goldfarb, who contracted and recovered from Covid-19, drove through the synagogue parking lot with his wife, Deborah Ben-Dayan, and miniature schnauzer, Arwen.
“I commend the synagogue for doing this,” he said, noting that he appreciated being able to safely see friends after spending several days in the hospital and six weeks at home. “This was an opportunity to just say hello to everybody.”
At the challah pick-up Marla and Rich Zirin, also of Highland Park, were able to reconnect with fellow congregants and clergy they had missed since the start of the crisis.
“Shabbat services are a major part of our lives,” said Marla Zarin in a telephone interview. “We’re usually here every Shabbat. It was something positive compared to what we all have been going through.”
Malomet said he’s committed to doing something similar again. (After the rabbi spoke with NJJN the HPCT-CAE website posted that the “COME-TO-THE-BACK-OF-THE-SHUL & PICK-UP-A-FRESH-CHALLAH & GRAPE-JUICE” event will be back on Friday, May 15.) He said it “was really very simple” to put together and made Shabbat special for the congregation. “We all got to say hello. It was lovely.”