Yom Kippur in the time of coronavirus
Yom Kippur/Kol Nidre night was...strange, with seating in pairs. I went with a friend, but all seats were paired, I guess because single seats would have looked too daunting.
The paired seats were 7–8 feet apart in all directions, with perhaps a total of 25% capacity in the Ezrat haNashim (women's section) at maximum, and a rav (rabbi) and baal korei (prayer reader) who apologized to the tzibur with tears in his voice for all our possible discomforts and the facts that necessitated these circumstances:
"Even HaShem (the Almighty) didn't foresee this kind of Yom Kippur," he said. The mechitza (room divider to separate men from women) was to me very interesting — also, one that made me, at least, less distant and disfavored, in a way, than all others I have seen. It was a vanilla-colored, 6.5-foot-high scrim, like a fine mesh screen for keeping out flies in your summer home, and the men can be seen through it as if in a dream, all vanilla-colored, too, visible quite in outline if not finest detail, but cozily, like what one sees in Malaysia and Thailand, in the puppet theatre performances, gauzy and indistinct, yet comfortingly there.
For all the architectural (almost cinematic) novelty of the divider scrim, it was a "kosher" separation in height and all the regulations. Innovative yet cool, as befits New York City in a pandemic and ritual observance.
We took a Shabbos elevator because the service was held down several flights, and my friend needed the convenience. Upstairs several floors, there was a second assembly of observing people saying the same prayers.
There were two men outside to check names and reservations. Then, inside the doors, there were two black fellows to take every temperature, with one of those temperature "guns," and one fellow to squirt hand sanitizer on every extended hand. They were both sweet and charming, quite accommodating enough to take my friend to the lift and explain that it was automatic, so it would eventually come without buzzing for it.
Security was prominent, as it is still in the epoch of terror. A huge man in a kipa stood outside, keeping guard, even well after the service was actually over. This year, the fear and care from contemplating Muslim extremists — a concern since the horror of 9/11 necessitated guards and bollards and precautions outside all synagogues in major metropolises — is subsumed to the less visible but mentally palpable anxiety of the viral miasma keeping people of all ages and heights, all nationalities and ethnicity, at large distances.
Caution wears a kippa now.