Jewish High Holy Days go virtual in Lake Placid

Susan Friedmann and Rabbi Alec Friedmann smile in their home on Feb. 13. (News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — In Lake Placid, the Jewish High Holy Days are going virtual this year.

In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Lake Placid Synagogue will livestream services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

This is something totally new for the synagogue, according to Rabbi Alec Friedmann.

The synagogue was able to transition its Seder observance online this spring, but translating the High Holy Days into a virtual medium — as well as the traditions that come along with them, such as the sounding of the shofar, prayers and eating of communal meals — has proven to be no easy feat. Synagogues around the world are faced with finding new ways to bring together their communities.

“There’s one major Jewish ingredient we haven’t been able to make up in the virtual world, and that’s food,” Friedmann said. “A lot of our service hinges around the community coming together — on Friday night, for a dinner, for example. We haven’t found a way to do that.”

Working together

This year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur observances will be different, but the services will still bring the community together — if only online.

“Everybody’s life has been affected,” said Susan Friedmann, Rabbi Friedmann’s wife. “It’s just about juggling to see how we can make it work, and how we can make it as meaningful as possible.”

The High Holy Day livestreams will feature prerecorded videos with different members of the congregation, even those who don’t live in Lake Placid year-round. That’s been one perk of having virtual services, according to Rabbi Friedmann.

“We found that doing services virtually allowed a lot of the congregation that lives outside the area to participate,” he said.

In the weeks leading up to the first night of Rosh Hashanah this Friday, Sept. 18, members of the congregation have been hard at work to make these virtual holiday services a reality.

“We have a cantor that lives in Washington, D.C. He and his wife come up here for a couple of weeks for all of the holidays, the New Year and the Day of Atonement,” added Susan Friedmann. “We wanted him here. He’s an integral part of our service.”

Susan and another member of the congregation, Harris Semegram, spent weeks recording different aspects of the services that the cantor would normally sing.

“Then we decided we would record everything,” she said.

Different members of the congregation were assigned various readings, and those were recorded, too — as well as the rabbi’s sermon. Good Guy Productions, based in Bloomingdale, will help livestream the recordings.

When to watch

The first livestream is slated for Friday, Sept. 18, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, at 7:30 p.m. The second will happen on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. There will also be a taschlich in person at the Victor Herbert Road boat launch that afternoon — everyone who attends is required to wear a face mask and social distance. The third stream will go live on Sunday at 10 a.m.

For Yom Kippur, the first livestream will be online at 7 p.m. on Sept. 27. There will be a Torah service the following morning, Sept. 28, at 10 a.m.

All of the livestreams will be available on the synagogue’s website at lakeplacidsynagogue.org.

After getting permission from the publisher, the synagogue will now provide PDFs of prayerbook sections that will be used in the services. Local members of the congregation also have the option of picking up a prayerbook in person. Those interested in doing so can contact the synagogue at 518-523-5611 in advance.

These services — and all services — are open to everyone, according to Rabbi Friedmann.

“Our policy has always been to let anybody who comes and wants to be in the service to come in,” he said. “The only thing we ask is that they make some kind of donation, within their abilities.”

Services remain virtual

Though the state relaxed its guidance for in-person services in June, allowing houses of worship such as synagogues to fill to 33% capacity, the Lake Placid Synagogue has continued to have services online for months.

“The Lake Placid Synagogue went virtual almost as soon as we realized we were in a pandemic,” Rabbi Friedmann said. “What we did was, we went to two services a month instead of one, and started meeting on the first and third Fridays of the month.”

In addition to the services, Friedmann also hosts weekly Zoom meetings to make himself available to anyone who wants to talk to a rabbi.

It’s unclear when the synagogue will welcome back its congregation in person.

“I think that’s a decision we will make when the situation changes,” Friedmann said. “I anticipate we’ll be doing (services virtually) for some time.”

The Beth Joseph Synagogue in Tupper Lake also remains closed, with services online only. Those interested in learning more about the High Holy Day services there can join the synagogue’s mailing list by emailing bjs.tlny@gmail.com. That 114-year-old synagogue is normally only open in the summer months. Throughout this summer, the building has undergone some work, and more renovations are expected soon. The synagogue is currently accepting donations via mail to help pay for those updates: Beth Joseph Synagogue, P.O. Box 625, Tupper Lake, NY 12986.