Amy and Mark Farber, with their family at a past holiday meal. This year’s gathering will be much smaller.

During COVID-19, large family gatherings off the table for Rosh Hashanah



During COVID-19, large family gatherings off the table for Rosh Hashanah

Amy and Mark Farber, with their family at a past holiday meal. This year’s gathering will be much smaller.

MARBLEHEAD – In years past, the Hamelburgs’ table at Rosh Hashanah would stretch from the front living room, past the kitchen, into the back family room.

The table setup was so long and so tight you would depend on your neighbor to pass the chicken soup, kugel, and brisket.

“Basically, we pack everyone in,” said Dr. Helyne Hamelburg, who owns a dental practice in Salem with her husband, Stephen.

The highlight of the meal was when the Hamelburgs would go around the table and have everyone talk about the good things that happened to them during the past year. They included “stragglers,” friends of their then college-age children, Alexa and Jake, or folks who had nowhere else to go.

But there won’t be a long table set up in the Hamelburgs’ Marblehead home this new year.

What is normally a time of year that is celebrated with traditional sweet and savory dishes in the company of others has become bittersweet as families opt not to hold large gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, many temples are holding High Holiday services online.

Usually Jake, Steaphen, Helyne and Alexa Hamelburg host a large gathering on Rosh Hashanah.

Lynn resident Mario Makhluf, 67, was born in Libya and lived in Europe and Israel before coming to the United States.

For Makhluf, a member of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, worship on the High Holidays will be somewhat similar as it has been in past years given his Swampscott synagogue is planning to hold in-person services with those davening wearing masks. Rabbi Yossi Lipsker said all of the services will be held outdoors in tents, and at the beach on Sunday for Tashlich. There’s also a limit to the number of worshipers at any one gathering, and social distancing guidelines will be followed.

Makhluf lives just a three-minute walk from Chabad.

“We move on as normal as possible,” he said.

In the Orthodox tradition, his family plans to hold a Seder, but this time it will be with just immediate family at the ritual meal.

“We are going to have a Zoom get-together with a bunch of people and friends from various backgrounds,” said Makhluf, who has a son in Marblehead and a son and daughter who live in Israel.

Amy Farber, whose husband, Mark, serves as president of the Board of Directors at the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, said she usually gets together with her mother’s side of her family – including her cousins, aunts, and uncles – in Framingham on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

Everyone brings something to add to the traditional meal.

The matriarch of the family, 91-year-old Frances Rosenblatt, lives in Brooksby Village in Peabody.

However, this year, because of the pandemic, it’s the first time they won’t all be gathering together as a family.

“We are all sad about it. It’s part of the current reality,” Amy Farber said.

They are thinking of holding a Zoom gathering, and perhaps do something symbolic, like a Seder with prayers, “just do that together and have an opportunity to chat and talk and wish each other l’shana tova.”

Her synagogue, Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, has worked to keep the community together by holding online offerings in the weeks leading up to the High Holiday season.

“For me, it’s the first time I really thought about what it means to go into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” Amy Farber said.

This year, while they won’t be with extended family, they will have close family around them in Gloucester, including their daughter, her husband, and their two young boys who live with them.

Mario Makhluf plans to attend Chabad of the North Shore services during Rosh Hashanah.

Her other daughter, who lives in Washington, D.C., will visit via Zoom and their son and his family, who live in Beverly, will probably join them in Gloucester. Amy Farber also plans to fetch her mother from Brooksby to visit for a few hours.

“We have all been in the same bubble,” Amy Farber said.

For services, they plan to take part on Zoom. Amy Farber is one of the vice presidents of her temple, which she has not been inside since March.

“It’s really sad. If I go there I get really, really sad,” she said.

Amy Farber said Yom Kippur will be similar, but with less planning to do when it comes to the meal to break the fast, which in the past they did at the temple.

“I suspect it will be us and it will be very low key, but we will miss doing it at temple which is always so lovely,” Amy Farber said.

In Marblehead, the Hamel­burgs usually host anywhere from 15 to 25 people at their home.

This year, with no one coming over, they thought about going away, perhaps with another family, but the question then became: Where were they going to go?

So, they scrapped that idea, Helyne Hamelburg said, in favor of a small gathering with their two grown children and the idea that it’s important for their family to have the consistency of observing Rosh Hashanah in their home.

“I’m going to cook soup this weekend,” said Helyne, who plans to cook the traditional dishes she normally serves up to her holiday crowd. Her meal normally consists of brisket, chicken, soup, kugel, apples and honey.

They plan to watch the High Holiday services online.

To break the Yom Kippur fast, she and a friend normally alternate hosting the meal after sunset. This year, the Hamelburgs will go to their friends’ house and break the fast under a tent that will allow for social distancing during the meal.

“It’s important we continue to carry on the traditions,” Helyne Hamelburg said. “It’s about family and being together.”

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