Pandemic forces Rosh Hashanah celebrations to go virtual

We had been working on a story about the Jewish High Holidays when the news broke. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

In the parking lot of Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue some female workers could be seen crying and VBS's Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein talked with us about the impact of this jurist, her legacy and the sadness in the Jewish community. She was the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice in the high court's history.

This was hours after we arrived and observed preparations for streaming high holiday services.

The preparations were like a dress rehearsal. As we watched it was almost like a rehearsal for a TV show. The producer/director lining up shots. The technical workers checking audio, microphones and lighting. Steve Pearlman, whose main job is producing and directing primetime TV shows is helping with this and says, “We kinda turned our sanctuary into a TV studio. We’ve got cameras.. we’ve got lights.” They’ve also got a stage manager, a jib operator, 4 cameras, a control room, Rabbis, a Cantor and a choir. This is Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

During the high holidays, synagogues are planning and delivering Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live services. But this conservative Jewish synagogue has built-out its own Netflix-like platform for congregants to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur from their homes, smartphones or laptops.

“I think everybody is feeling unsettled," says the synagogue's Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein. He says, "This holiday is an anchor moment for our community. It's the time of year we gather together and reconnect. We connect with friends in the community. We connect with God."

Another of the synagogue's Rabbis Noah Farkas says, “That’s what we do is to bring people together and it’s the one thing that we’re not allowed to do because of COVID.”

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but turning this important Jewish holiday season virtual? Says Farkas, there's no other option and “No joke it is very hard.”

This rehearsal is for Saturday’s live/streaming main service, but there are others for children and families. They’ll be different too.. The children’s service has been prerecorded with something special. Rabbi Joshua Hoffman says,

“We did the most lovable thing because we knew we wouldn’t be in a big room with all of the energy and all of the excitement and we asked we asked members of the community to bring stuffed animals for our youngest children and we set them up as our congregation and we literally went around the room and pretended to shake hands with the stuffed animals. Not only to connect with the families but also for us to feel there was some energy to connect with.”

To learn more about participating in the High Holiday services go to