Following last year’s hiatus, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s outdoor and normally in-person ceremony, Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars, will return for an in-person gathering.
The service will take place the evening of Sept. 6 at Oregon Ridge Park.
“It is like a big community gathering,” said Jill Feinberg, event chair at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. “It has a feeling of joy, it has a feeling of spirituality, it has a feeling of togetherness. I feel like it’s exactly what we need right now during this pandemic.”
The annual gathering began in 2005. At its height, it saw upwards of 6,000 attendees, said Feinberg, a resident of Mt. Washington. She noted that attendance can be affected if the Baltimore Ravens have a game that evening.
At the event, there is a staging area for BHC clergy and the choir. Large screens allow onlookers to follow along in the service, which is typically run by Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen and Cantor Ben Ellerin. While the service typically starts at 6 p.m., it’s not uncommon for attendees to arrive at 4 p.m. armed with picnic blankets, wine or beer, fried chicken, sandwiches, mashed potatoes or traditional Rosh Hashanah food such as chicken soup or brisket. While the adults toast each other, children run around or entertain themselves at the playground near the entrance. Feinberg recalled watching her own now teenage daughters, when they were younger, running up and down the hilly terrain with the pure joy of being outdoors with friends.
“Like tailgating, almost,” Feinberg said. “You see pretty elaborate displays.”
While things quiet down once the service starts, with participants focusing on the music and the blowing of the shofar, they liven up again afterward, “continuing with the great conversations … and the great camaraderie you establish from 4 p.m. on,” Feinberg said.
In 2020, BHC did an online version called Rosh Hashanah Under Your Stars. While Feinberg felt the online event went well, she was excited about returning to the in person version.
Tickets to the event are free, although donations, both of food cans and of online monetary contributions, are accepted. While the evening is sponsored by BHC, all are welcome to attend, including nonmembers and non-Jews. It’s not unheard of for attendees to come from across the country, Feinberg said. Her own parents have flown in from Boston to participate.
The service will be canceled in the event of rain, Feinberg said.
BHC is strongly encouraging attendees who are eligible for vaccinations to get them, according to an event flyer. Throughout the evening, and particularly in “high traffic” areas such as the entrance, the local playground and the restrooms, attendees are also asked to wear masks, except when within their household’s defined seating area. The synagogue also encourages physical distancing, with different households maintaining a 3- to 6- foot distance from each other.
“If you’re outside, you feel closer to nature,” Feinberg said. “I will say that Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars is very special to me, and I know it’s very special to others, congregants or not, because of the opportunity to enjoy the service, your friends, your family, the food, in such a relaxed atmosphere. It becomes very spiritual, it becomes very meaningful, because of the outdoor location.”