Congregations going outside for services

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(Photo courtesy of Adat Reyim)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, outdoor services have seen a significant increase in popularity, according to synagogues around the area.

Some congregations, like Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria, have formal outdoor worship spaces.

Beth El Hebrew Congregation’s Chapel in the Woods was built as a place to meditate, to hold services and as a teaching center for children about nature, according to the Reform congregation’s website. Built in 2002, the retreat remains one of the intact forested sections around the area.

Other synagogues, like Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield, had to improvise. When the pandemic was in full swing, services had to be held outdoors to ensure the safety of all congregants. To maintain social distancing, the synagogue held services in front of its building.

Outside of Adat Reyim’s doors, services typically feature two choirs: one traditional and the other with contemporary instruments. Congregants bring their own chairs and sometimes even a picnic to share. Restless children are able to run around safely in the back.

“It’s this communal feel,” member Eileen Kugler said, adding that setting up an outdoor service space can be labor intensive.

In 2021, Adat Reyim had a high attendance at high holiday services, according to Kugler. “It was just beautiful outside and people really loved it,” she said.

While most of Adat Reyim’s summer services can be held outside, some of the fall services succumb to the weather. Kugler said the congregation planned for their high holiday services in 2022 to be outside again, but with the incoming deluge brought on by Hurricane Ian, they’ve had to relocate indoors.

Holding services outdoors allows people with young children, elderly and immunocompromised family members to worship without fear.

“We have some members who are still not comfortable coming indoors,” Kugler said. Outdoor worship is
a “win-win.”

Whenever indoors, Adat Reyim offers hybrid services. Congregants can attend in person or virtually
over Zoom.

“People have a whole different attitude now about what is acceptable outside,” Kugler said. Before the pandemic, she noted how people might gripe about the weather conditions before an outdoor service, saying it’s too hot or too cold to be outside.

“We used to say how in Sweden, people just put on more coats if they’re cold and then go outside,” Kugler joked. “Now, no one complains. They are happy to be outside. It has a very comfortable feeling.”

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