Plan A, B, and C in place for Ottawa synagogues heading into High Holidays

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift, synagogues across Ottawa are preparing to pivot — making the decisions to either stay virtual, move to in-person celebrations, or provide a hybrid approach.

At Congregation Beit Tikvah, Rabbi Aryeh Kravetz says the goal is always to be able to provide as much choice as they can.

“That’s been the mindset, and it continues to be the mindset. We’re all about more opportunities, different opportunities, different venues …” says Kravetz. Even as restrictions lift, we know people may be still uncomfortable, so we’re still very much into offering outdoor opportunities.”

Thanks to a microgrant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, Beit Tikvah has been able to put up a programming tent outside, and plan to use it not only for services but for other opportunities as well.

“We want to do as much as we can for as many people as we can, in as many ways as possible,” says Kravetz.

“We know we’ll have an indoor service, but we don’t know how many people that will be … we hope to offer outdoor opportunities as well.”

Kravetz says they’re open to offering more than one indoor service, to accommodate capacity restrictions.

When it comes to Rosh Hashannah, Kravetz is currently trying to figure out what might be possible — and what might be the best approach. As an orthodox synagogue, there’s no technology used for the High Holiday, but Beit Tikvah may offer virtual events in the days before or after.

Over at Or Haneshamah (ORH), there will be virtual services only for Rosh Hashannah, but they also plan to offer an outdoor Tashlik and a second day of Rosh Hashanah study group.

“We’re being super cautious,” says ORH president Carolyn Whitzman. “We will probably resume in-shul services after High Holidays.”

Starting in September, ORH plans to pivot from virtual events to outdoor events.

At Keihillat Beth Israel (KBI), they’re going to do what they’ve been doing for the last year — have a handful of plans to cover all possible scenarios.

“Because of the ever-changing restrictions, who knows what we’ll be able to offer when, so the plan is to plan for everything,” says Elisheva Brantz, KBI’s interim executive director. “To be

able to express what we can confirm when we’re able to confirm it. We could tell you that we’re doing A, B and C, but once we get to the day of, who knows what is going to happen.”

Brantz says over the last year and a half, it’s been constantly looking one step ahead.

“Planning for the best, but also having the worst in mind — or even planning for the worst. If restrictions lift, we can do this … but oh no we’re back in lockdown, so we have to scale it back,” says Brantz. “There’s a lot of moving pieces and we don’t always have control over them.”

Overall, congregations have been patient and understanding across Jewish Ottawa — “We’re all in this together,” says Brantz.

Kravetz describes it as a “patient excitement.”

“It keeps you on your toes, but it’s exciting. We feel that we’re on the right track. As soon as things keep opening up, we’re going to jump at every opportunity — keeping safety in mind — but there’s an energy and an eagerness to be back together. There’s this palpable energy, it’s in the back of our minds, constant. It’s a feeling of excitement as things open up.”