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Rosh Hashanah Celebrations Planned With COVID In Mind For 2nd Straight Year

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Rosh Hashanah starts Monday night.

In the midst of the pandemic, some congregations are carefully planning to gather in person, while others will connect virtually, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Friday.

Photos from years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic show the thousands of people typically drawn to the Jacob Javits Center for free Rosh Hashanah services with Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world's largest LGBTQ synagogue, which is based in Chelsea.

But for a second straight year, this time due to the Delta variant, the clergy will livestream prayers online with pre-recorded messages from congregants.

"Anybody can join. We have people from 14 different countries and from 40 different states joining us," said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. "I believe in the possibilities of hope in the middle of great difficulties, and we try in these last 18 months to lead our synagogue through what's been extremely difficult circumstances, but to build a sense of human connection, no matter what. We have to understand that it's our obligation if we are alive at this minute to live our lives as fully as we possibly can."

A deeper craving for human connection is why Chabad of the Upper East Side said there's more interest in services this year than years past.

"You don't appreciate something until it's taken away from you, so because of the isolation, I think for many people, it actually highlighted for them the importance of community," said Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski. "Judaism is all centers of community."

Rabbi Mark Wildes of the Manhattan Jewish Experience, which caters to adults in their 20s and 30s, explained the meaning of the holiday and the signature sounds of the shofar.

"Rosh Hashanah is really a time to ask ourselves why we exist and what's our purpose here on Earth and what steps am I going to take in this coming year to actualize my potential," said Rabbi Wildes. "The shofar is a ram's horn that we sound. It's supposed to be like a shrill. It's supposed to sort of shake us out of our slumber, wake us up and go, 'Dude, another year has gone by. What are you doing?'"

It's also customary to eat certain foods as part of the Rosh Hashanah feast.

Breads Bakery in Union Square is churning out thousands of challahs.

"We're doing each and every one by hand. There's no magic braiding machine," an employee said.

At Balaboosta in the West Village, Rosh Hashanah meal kits are ready to be delivered to families who didn't want to cook. The restaurant will be serving holiday-themed food all week.

It's curated by Einat Admony, who grew up in Israel.

"My mom came from Iran. My dad was Yemenite," she said. "So the food, it's a little bit more spicy. It's more colorful ... and the way we cook, the extensive kind of meals we have. My Rosh Hashanah, there is no gefilte fish on the table. There is spicy Moroccan fish."

And for her, always, hummus.

"What we put inside this year is put leeks. It's part of the symbols for Rosh Hashanah, so we have some nice leek confit, so we serve with hummus, and a beautiful salad with pomegranate seeds and pomegranate dressing," Admony said.

Jewish families have different traditions of what they will eat on Rosh Hashanah, but everyone has apples and honey for a sweet new year.

Other sweet things include pumpkin and chicken.

"It's jasmine rice mixed with dried apricot prunes, everything chopped very fine, dried cranberry," Admony said.

And a round challah to symbolize the circle of life.

Before eating, everyone wishes each other L'shanah tovah -  to a good new year.

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