The wheel deal? Shul organises drive-in Rosh Hashanah

Finchley Reform Synagogue’s Rabbi Miriam Berger hosted the event in which congregants were not allowed to leave their cars


The idea of a drive-in might conjure mental images of couples in 1950s America perched in open-top Chevrolets, drinking soda and watching the latest Grace Kelly movie.  It might not, however, make you think of a shul service in a north-west London rugby stadium car park. 

That, however, was before the Covid-19 era.

This Rosh Hashanah, with social distancing requirements playing havoc with so many services in synagogue buildings, Finchley Reform Synagogue decided to do something completely different.

The decision to hold a drive-in new year was the brainchild of Rabbi Miriam Berger, who hit on the idea when watching Hollywood comedy Sister Act at another drive-in event earlier this summer.  

Witnesses said the scene in the car park at Saracens rugby club, in Mill Hill, was unlike any shul service that has ever taken place and, you’d assume, will ever take place again. 

A pair of giant screens mounted on lorries offered the congregation a close-up view of the rabbi and the five-person Rhythm ‘n’ Jews musical ensemble on the stage. Each car was kitted out with a sanitised speaker to amplify the music, while apple and honey portions were passed through car windows by wardens so children at the two morning family services could make a mess of their parents’ cars. “We turned our members’ cars into a kind of collective community sanctuary,”  said Rabbi Berger, whose grandfather Ronald died of Covid-19 in March, aged 95. There were 80 cars at the first day Rosh Hashanah service on Saturday morning, 120 at the second and 110 more at a third service on Saturday night, with more than 1,000 congregants attending overall. To be Covid-regulation compliant, congregants were not allowed to leave their cars, mingle and gossip, and if they needed the car park’s lavatories they had to turn on their hazard lights and get escorted by a steward.

Those attending said that the ingeniousness of the event, which was arranged by the shul after exhaustive negotiations with council officials and the police, provided them with a bit of much-needed joy. “It gives the day some meaning,” said Vikki Seaton, 50, who attended with husband Daryl, 47, and children Daniel, nine, Lana, 13, and Kara, 16. “Other synagogues are doing zoom services - but my children would never have been able to concentrate.” 

David Byers is Assistant Money Editor at the Times

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