With the coronavirus pandemic altering routines, Chaplain (Capt.) Mendy Stern is preparing to honor the Jewish High Holidays in a different way this fall.
Instead of the traditional forms of worship and celebration, Stern, the Jewish chaplain for the Military District of Washington, National Capital Region, will conduct condensed services at Fort Belvoir’s Chapel that will still highlight the importance of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Stern, who began his current position in June, said it was a daunting task to turn a typical three-and-a-half-to-four-hour service into two hours. But he found a solution by rethinking how he did things.
Stern said he’s replacing his sermon time by weaving sermon-type topics into the prayer time. Stern also said there won’t be as much focus on fellowship time during this year’s services.
“There’s more emphasis on worship,” Stern said.
What is celebrated
Rosh Hashanah, which began Sept. 18 at sundown, is “the World’s New Year as it commemorates the 6th day of creation when God created the first two beings,” according to a Jewish High Holiday information sheet.
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, begins Sept. 27 at sundown and is 24 hours of “fasting and praying for forgiveness, a please for the faithful before their fates are sealed in the “Book of Judgment,” the Jewish High Holiday information sheet stated.
Sukkot (which means Festival of Booths) is an eight-day holiday that begins Oct. 2. Sukkot “commemorates the Israelites’ 40-year journey through the wilderness.”
The Simchat Torah is “a one-day separate holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the annual public Torah-reading cycle.” This holiday begins Oct. 9.
Stern believes the shortened time frame will still give people the chance to connect with God.
“I try to find a silver lining with any challenge,” Stern said. “Once I had it organized in my head, it was finding the rhythm to make it work by making it more meaningful and at the same time translated into usable information.”
He added, “The Army Chaplains are serving like a lighthouse in the darkness of the tumult of the world helping the military community find inner peace,” Stern said.
Stern said the Fort Belvoir Jewish Service has one of the longest running congregations in the Army, which has helped maintain continuity over the years.
“I credit the Religious Support Office and the lay leadership of the Jewish Community,” Stern said.
Information and videos for services are available online on the Belvoir Jewish Service group section of Fort Belvoir’s Religious Support Office Facebook page.