Life cycle events continue during crisis, but now with a new twist
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COVID-19Celebrations and ceremonies continue

Life cycle events continue during crisis, but now with a new twist

Jewish community finds ways to celebrate despite COVID-19

Chanie and Shneur Chein on their wedding day.
Photo provided by Shulamis Rothman
Chanie and Shneur Chein on their wedding day. Photo provided by Shulamis Rothman

Chanie Rothman came back to her childhood home of Pittsburgh last Tuesday to wed her New York sweetheart. Even in the face of a pandemic, the Squirrel Hill community treated the bride like a queen.

The wedding reception at a fancy downtown hotel for 300 out-of-towners was canceled at the last minute due to gathering restrictions stemming from coronavirus concerns. But that didn’t stop Chanie and her now-husband, Shneur Chein, from getting married March 17 under a chuppah at the Lubavitch Center.

After the outdoor ceremony, something magical happened. The couple — and their immediate families — were surprised with a white convertible adorned with flowers. So, they took a victory lap. The car belonged to Elly Feibus who disinfected it before lending it to the couple.

“People came out of their houses and lined Hobart Street,” said Shulamis Rothman, the bride’s mother. “A good friend made ‘Mazel Tov’ signs. And there were people holding these signs, people singing and dancing and waving and blowing kisses. No eyes were dry as they came down the street.

“It was not actually what we had planned and not actually what my daughter dreamed,” she continued. “But it turned out to be a beautiful, beautiful day. This community is not to be beaten. It was just beautiful.”

Jews throughout Pittsburgh continue to grapple with a new normal in the face of more reported Pennsylvania COVID-19 cases and are finding interesting ways to celebrate weddings and rite-of-passage events like bar and bat mitzvahs.

For some congregations, such as Beth Shalom on Beacon Street, it means live-streaming ceremonies and placing bans on receptions.
“For our upcoming simchas the next couple of weeks, we are basically moving forward with the events — a bat mitzvah, a wedding — with limited, immediate family participants, and livestreaming where possible,” said Kenneth A. Turkewitz, interim executive director at Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation. “Receptions are canceled or postponed until a later time in the year.”

Rabbi Aaron Bisno is acclimating to the new normal at his Shadyside synagogue, Rodef Shalom Congregation. On Shabbat, he livestreamed his sermon in front of a nearly empty room. That shift in procedure, however, is not stopping young Jews from ascending the bima to read from the Torah as they enter adulthood.

“We’re expecting to continue to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs, as well as all of the regularly scheduled things we are doing,” Bisno said. Those who have been studying and preparing for becoming bar or bat mitzvah “are ready to read from the Torah on Shabbat — it just won’t be with a large congregation in front of them.”

Others are waiting to see how the pandemic plays out in Southwestern Pennsylvania before altering plans scheduled for the coming months.

Jaime Snyder is eyeing May 23. That’s the day her son Jordan — a 12-year-old Community Day School seventh-grader and the oldest of Snyder’s three children — is set to become a bar mitzvah at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill. Snyder has until May 2 to get back her full deposit at Zone 28, an indoor entertainment destination in the North Hills, if she cancels the reception. For now, she’s in wait-and-see territory.

“I don’t know if I’m being too optimistic,” Snyder said. “I’m struggling with the amount of notice. And, if we reschedule, when do we reschedule for?” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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