By Lee Chottiner
In an effort to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, Anshei Sfard will hold its High Holy Day services outdoors this year in what might be a first for Jewish Louisville.
The congregation erected a 40-by-60-foot tent in the parking lot next to the mikvah on Dutchmans Lane Thursday, a space big enough to hold about 50 social-distancing worshippers.
Rabbi Simcha Snaid said there wasn’t enough room inside Anshei Sfard’s synagogue in the Shalom Towers to safely hold the services.
“Last year, we fit 60 people in there,” Snaid said. “We took out the tables; people were right next to each other in seats. It was a tight squeeze. That’s not going to work this year.”
Anshei Sfard and Chabad resumed in-person services this summer.
Under the tent, families may sit together, but all other worshippers will have seats between them.
“Will I say each seat I measure is exactly six feet [apart]? I can’t say it will be exactly,” Snaid said. “But it will be distant enough to where there is a real separation, and we will all be wearing masks.”
The cost of the tent is being covered with a programing grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, which JHFE approved for this purpose. The Jewish Community of Louisville, which owns the parking lot, approved the placement of the tent. It will come down the Monday after Rosh Hashanah for an event and will be re-erected the following Friday for Yom Kippur.
For the ark, the members are using a repurposed bookshelf big enough to hold two Torah scrolls.
It may not be a perfect set-up, Snaid said, but it will do.
“Thank God, the weather is going to be great, but the downside is there may be noise; it’s not my usual seat; it’s this or that… A couple months ago we weren’t sure we were even going to have the ability to have in-person services. Thank Gd we’re able to do it in a safe way.”
The services may mark the first time a Louisville synagogue has held High Holy Day services outdoors, other than tashlich, which must be held by a living body of water. Local rabbis and cantors contacted for this story could not recall another time this has happened.
But Chabad, which also holds in-person services, is offering indoor and outdoor seating this year. In other cities, some Orthodox congregations have begun holding Shabbat services outdoors as a safety measure.
“These are uncharted waters,” Snaid said.
But his members might decide they like it.
“There is an element of being outdoors where people may feel a stronger connection with God,” he said. “You’re looking at nature; you see the sky. It reminds you more of God sometimes than being in the synagogue itself. That might be an aspect people will take away.”