How did Diaspora communities survive Covid-19?

Arutz Sheva talks with Rabbi Shalom Axelrod of Young Israel of Woodmere and Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Vienna.

Yoni Kempinski ,

Returning to the Synagogues - Special online conference
Returning to the Synagogues - Special online conference
Arutz Sheva

The pandemic has impacted every aspect of life, including spiritual and religious life, and has changed the relationships between Jewish communities and their synagogues.

In an exclusive panel discussion, Arutz Sheva spoke with Rabbi Shalom Axelrod of the Young Israel of Woodmere synagogue in New York and Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer, Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Vienna to find out how their communities handled the pandemic.

This panel was part of a three-day online conference produced by the World Organization of Orthodox Communities and Synagogues.

Rabbi Aexlrod said that with most of their community members vaccinated, it has allowed them a “full return” and they are back to regular services, although they still offer outdoor services and have indoor “mask only” areas versus “mask optional” for those who want them.

Rabbi Engelmayer said that his community is getting back to normal in a similar manner, with the lockdown rules beginning to be relaxed.

With the synagogue the center of Orthodox Jewish life in America, Rabbi Aexlrod explained that the deep relationship between the synagogue and the community had to pivot with COVID to instead transition to be more of a social service provider.

The pandemic “was very jarring for people, especially in the very beginning,” he said. “We had to quickly pivot to become an organization of a social spiritual welfare in terms of servicing the (community’s) needs.”

Rabbi Engelmayer added, “If the connection (between community members and the synagogue) can’t be physical, it’s very hard to build a bridge to help everyone and to stay connected. People love to meet and come back and at the synagogue we see how happy people are to come to join again.”

There are many stories, memories and lessons learned from the pandemic.

“The personal lessons of reflecting on what family means, and what relationships mean,” explained Rabbi Axelrod.

Rabbi Engelmayer said that people now appreciate gathering together in person a lot more than previously.

“To appreciate what we think is normal, it’s normal to meet each other, to get together, to have our family together. (These things) weren’t appreciated as much as they are now and we should save these feelings and take them with us.”