Houses of worship in the Twin Counties are gearing up for a very different holiday season this year as the community continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congregation Anshe Emeth, 240 Joslen Boulevard, Hudson, is having its regular in-person Shabbat services Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 10 a.m., with a Hanukkah service, but no Hanukkah party this year, Rabbi Daniel Fried said. Very few people come to services, he added.
“Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, everything had to be limited,” Fried said.
The congregation will not be incorporating food into the celebration this year, which they typically do.
“Due to the situation we can’t serve the traditional food, latkes — potato pancakes — and donuts,” he said. “We can only provide food for thought.”
Religion school students will lead their regular Wednesday service and will light the synagogue’s community menorah together on Joslen Boulevard, he said. The electric menorah consists of 100 bulbs.
Seventh Street Park also has a community menorah, which has been organized by Hudson City Judge Brian Herman.
The purpose of the menorah is to bring light in the darkness, said Rabbi Chaim Drizin, who hosts programming at the Hudson synagogue.
“The purpose of the menorah is you specifically light it after nightfall. You want to illuminate the darkness, that’s the message of the menorah,” Drizin said. “It’s a universal message for Jews and non-Jews alike and that’s why I think it’s important to have the menorah up, just everyone shine a little light.”
He hopes a sense of normalcy will return by summer and he can do more programming in Hudson.
“The nature of most of the events synagogues do, or we do, is gather people together and Rule No. 1 in COVID is you can’t gather people together, so it’s been very difficult,” he said. “Having said that, the menorah is an opportunity. It’s in the park so people don’t have to stand next to each other.”
He thinks more people will seek out programming after the pandemic.
“People have had their value systems shaken up here,” he said. “Everything we knew about the world has been put on its head. People have been doing a lot of soul-searching the past couple months.”
Reformed Dutch Church, 88 Route 9H, Claverack, will not have an in-person Christmas service this year. Instead, a prerecorded service will be sent out on Christmas Eve, Pastor Linda Miles said Friday.
“We usually get about 200 people in the church and we really can’t meet the safety guidelines of the state and of our own conscience if we do that,” Miles said.
The increasing number of COVID-19 cases as well as the onset of the flu season led to the decision, she said.
“We are disappointed, but we feel this is the best decision to keep everyone safe,” she wrote in a letter to her congregation Friday.
All the elements of their traditional service will be included in the video, Miles said. The bell choir will play 6 feet apart from one another and the choir will either sing socially distanced or merge individually recorded videos.
Prior to the pandemic, typical services had between 50 and 80 attendees, and recently about 25 to 35 have been attending. Services have been live streamed since July with the option of attending in person.
Congregants typically sing Christmas carols at Pine Haven and Ghent Assisted Living nursing homes, but this year they delivered cookies and coloring and finder word books. Children in the church’s Sunday School made more than 200 Christmas cards for residents. The church usually has a large Christmas bazaar, but not this year, Miles said.
Christ Church Episcopal, 431 Union St., Hudson, will have one Christmas Eve service instead of two. It will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 24. Masks will be required and there will be no singing, Senior Warden Phillip Schwartz said. Attendees should call the church ahead of time to make a reservation because of limited space due to safety protocols. No reservation is required for the Christmas morning service at 9 a.m. Both services will be viewable live on Facebook and remain online afterwards.
St. Mary’s Church, 429 Allen St., Hudson, will have three Masses on Christmas Eve and a Christmas Day Mass. Tickets will be required for the 4 p.m and 10 p.m. Masses on Christmas Eve, the Rev. Anthony M. Barratt said. The 4 p.m. Mass can be viewed on the Holy Trinity Hudson website. Masks and physical distancing will be directed by ushers at all Masses.
There will be no in-person service at Mt. Pleasant Reformed Church, 33 Church Road, Greenport, on Christmas Eve, according to Pastor Dave Tipple.
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, 206 Union St., will have Solem Divine Liturgy Christmas Day services at 9 a.m. Dec. 25.
Temple Israel of Catskill, 220 Spring St., is holding online virtual events. On Saturday at 6 p.m., there will be a Havdalah and Chanukah celebration on the synagogue’s Facebook page. On Dec. 17, at 6 p.m., there will be a candle lighting and Chanukah stories on Zoom. On Dec. 18 and 25, at 6 p.m., there will be a welcoming of Shabbat on Facebook Live. More information can be found on the synagogue’s website and Facebook page.
“We’re doing a tremendous amount. In many ways we’ve increased not only what we’re doing, but we’ve increased our membership,” said Rabbi Zoe B. Zak. “We’ve had a lot of new people joining and a lot who don’t even live nearby, and watching our service online from New York City or Philadelphia. Of course, there are challenges associated with all this, and there’s the hardships that people are going through and the tremendous losses, and that’s a severe reality. And we’re just doing our best here to support people every which way we can think of doing, and to be here for people in a consistent way.”
Gospel Community Church, 121 Mansion St., Coxsackie, is tentatively planning a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. Dec. 24.
“We have to follow the guidelines, which is basically 50% capacity, and families have to stay 6 feet apart, so what we’re doing for that is we have the rows 6 feet apart, so one family per row, and we have an overflow room. If we reach the maximum capacity, we have room for some more families in there,” said Rob Savasta, the church’s administrative assistant.
Full Life Church, 3 Bogardus Ave., Catskill, will be holding two Christmas Eve candlelight services at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in person; the 6:30 p.m. service will also be online on the church’s Facebook page. The church is also holding a New Year’s Eve worship and prayer meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 31. The church requires masks and takes everyone’s temperature at the door.
“A lot of folks enjoy, and maybe look for, a candle-lit service on Christmas Eve, and having the two services and online helps to spread people out. The message there is really at Christmastime there’s always hope in Jesus,” said Pastor Craig Paczkowski.
First United Methodist Church, 103 Mansion St., Coxsackie, will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 4 p.m. Dec. 24. The church can hold about 30 people. On Dec. 21, at 6 p.m., there will be a Service of Remembrance on Facebook Live, which will be aired on YouTube.
“COVID had a pretty serious impact, especially in the beginning,” Pastor Kathleen Reynolds said. “We have been providing online services, and we then later post them on our YouTube channel. This year has been extremely challenging, but we seem to persevere. We managed to modify, socially distance and plan.”
Because of COVID, the church cannot have a choir or have everyone singing, but they hum instead, Reynolds said.