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Dress appropriately, don't talk and find a pleasant view: Rabbi issues ‘Yomtov service at home’ guide

Jonathan Romain wants to make the live-streamed services 'as meaningful as possible'

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With Reform synagogues not holding physical services over the High Holy-Days, shul leaders have been wrestling with the problem of how to create a Yomtov atmosphere at home for those tuning into their live-streamed alternatives.

To this end, Maidenhead Reform minister Rabbi Jonathan Romain has come up with a list of 13 suggestions which he has circulated to members.

He firstly advises that the viewing device be sited in a room that is “calm and tidy” with a white cloth on the table and a vase of flowers.

Congregants should face “a pleasant view, not something annoying or distracting”, sit in an upright chair and wear the clothes they would have worn to synagogue, as well as a kippah and tallit.

They should consider inviting family or friends to form a mini-community. But whoever they are watching with, act as though in shul and do not chat during the service.

Rabbi Romain pointed out that “whereas most congregants think about the High Holy-Days in September, rabbis plan them way in advance. So I was keen to set out suggestions to make the live-streamed Yomtovim as spiritual and meaningful as possible. They are simple suggestions but collectively can make a big difference to how the services feel.

“Of course, no one knows exactly what it will feel like except that it won’t be the same as before and won’t have the same atmosphere or intensity. But such is the price of safety and we all are assuming it will be a one-off experience for this year.”

Looking further ahead, Rabbi Romain hoped normal services could be resumed after Simchat Torah, subject to government guidelines.

In the meantime, the plan is to reopen Maidenhead’s Sunday morning religion school in September. However, because of the large number of pupils —165 — “we will split it into two halves and hold them on an alternating basis, with one half in the synagogue one week and then having classes at home via Zoom the next”.

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