July 16, 2020

Dear SPS Community,

We write to update you on our plans for High Holidays 5781. After much consideration, the SPS leadership has decided that we will not hold our large, in-person High Holiday (HH) services this year. Instead, we will provide a variety of ways for us to come together and celebrate the holidays through meaningful, online services and other virtual points of access.
This decision was not made lightly, and we appreciate the input that we received from so many of you in addition to the guidance from scientists and other religious leaders who are contemplating similar questions. 
· Thank you for those of you who have filled out our survey. 
· Thank you to the Religious Observance Committee members and the Board and Executive Committee members with whom we have brainstormed. 
· Thank you to those who came to the town hall meetings and asked great questions and those with whom the Rabbi has been in dialogue over the past several weeks as we think about the sacred days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 
A task force has been created to consider all of these conversations. The members of this task force have been asked to determine how to best create and deliver a meaningful HH service, raise the funds traditionally associated with the HH that are vital to support programming for the year, and develop a communication strategy in this virtual era . Your opinions were helpful and we are proud that they were in line with what we know about our congregation. You value tradition and connection, and the ability to learn and grow yet are also flexible and resilient and understand that health, safety, and the ability to be as inclusive as possible, are crucial elements to a successful SPS High Holidays. 
By making and announcing this decision now, we have time to make High Holidays 5781 the best they can be. We can devote our resources toward creating an innovative and meaningful holiday experience, rather than on the complex requirements involved in trying to ensure the safety of everyone attending a large, in-person gathering.
Here is what we do know. 
· We know that we will have a meaningful, live, real time service that will ideally include things like a Torah service (where people can be "included virtually" in real time), a shofar service, the Hineni, a sermon, Kol Nidre, Yizkor, and more. 
· We are committed to the notion that the Cantor, the Rabbi, and the Torah reader will be in the sanctuary leading that service.
· While we won’t have a live choir, we are exploring pre-recorded music sung by our wonderful choir members. 
· While there will be no parallel service, we will work with Cantor Wise and Rabbi Spielman to make sure their voices are included in a pre-recorded option.
· While we won’t have our normal gathering of everyone coming in front of the ark during Neilah, we will create a sign-up opportunity for people to come with their families throughout the Holiday season to share in this experience.
· We know that we will have a virtual Young Professionals service as well as tot, youth, and teen programming, that best meet the needs of the various demographics in the synagogue.
· We know that we will provide virtual opportunities for gathering, learning, and exploring the different themes of the holidays
· We know that we will help people who sign up for the service receive access to the mahzor, the High Holiday prayer book.
· We know that the distribution of and execution of aliyahs and honors will be different this year as we work within the parameters of our virtual platform.
One question many of you have asked: can we have multiple, shorter services, in one day? Unfortunately, no, as we won’t have the ability to clean effectively between each of the services and we know there are several risks of opening for any sizable group, such as:
·        Sitting in-person for an extended period of time even with a mask, even six feet apart
·        Singing, even with a mask
·        Sharing Bathrooms
·        Close proximity of entrance and exits
·        People participating in honors would require too much close proximity and constant touching of the same items
·        Being in an indoor space with no windows
Whatever SPS offers will feel real because it will BE real. Just as many of you have logged on and participated, albeit virtually, each Shabbat, we will have High Holiday services that have meaning and preserve the traditions to which we are accustomed. There will also be many moments of connection and learning, before, during, and after. We are going to build on the creativity that we have seen in the Jewish world over the past several months in order to create a meaningful service that you will both be proud of and moved by. There will be additional pieces that you will be able to access virtually and, ideally, we will find ways for people to speak in small groups, learn together, and connect.
Details about how to access these services will be shared in the coming weeks . Please know that in the past, when you have “bought seats”, you weren’t just buying something in a transactional way. Instead, you were enabling SPS to provide services then and throughout the year. The revenue for the high holidays is one of the key inputs that sustains us and so we hope you will continue to participate in that as well. 
Thank you in advance for your flexibility, patience, and commitment as the leadership continues work to figure out next steps. We share your disappointment at the loss of this cherished community gathering in observance of these central holidays. We will miss being together in the same room and the casual interactions that make this annual reunion of our community so special.
Throughout our long history as a people, we have always found ways to hold out hope that tomorrow will be better than today. We believe that our ability to adapt to adverse circumstances, while holding on to what is most important, accounts for our enduring vitality as a people. This situation will continue to test our community’s resilience, a test that we are confident that together we WILL pass.
Please be in touch with any questions or further ideas about how we can make the best of this situation.
Jeffrey Jacob, President
Greg Angrist, Executive Vice President,
Jeff Uffner, Vice President for Tefillah
Rabbi Rachel Ain
Cantor Malachi Kanfer 
Hunter Gold, Executive Director
Sutton Place Synagogue | spsnyc.org
225 E 51 Street, New York, NY 10022
sps@spsnyc.org | 212.593.3300