The Temple Is at The Zoo in 5782
Rosh HashanahCommunity

The Temple Is at The Zoo in 5782

The midtown congregation is taking over the Atlanta Zoo’s 16,000-sq.-foot Ford Pavilion and offering members free passes to visit the animal exhibits.

Following the service, The Temple's members will receive free passes to tour the zoo's exhibits.
Following the service, The Temple's members will receive free passes to tour the zoo's exhibits.

The Temple’s Rosh Hashanah services for families this year will be held at Zoo Atlanta.

The service, which is described as multi-generational, will take over The Ford Pavilion at the zoo, which is a 16,000 square foot tent-like structure on Rosh Hashanah morning, Tuesday, September 7.

It’s believed that this is the first time The Temple, which was established in 1867, has ever hosted a High Holy Days worship service at a location other than its own building.

The Temple’s Director of Lifelong Learning Rabbi Steven Rau said the relocation of the popular services, which are only open by reservation to temple members, is in response to a desire to reunite the congregation physically.

“Our goal was to get our families back together. This is for so many families, even the older generations a very big part of their holiday experience and one of the most meaningful. So we’re just trying to bring a little bit more normalcy into our family’s lives again.”

The popular service, which has attracted 1,000 or more worshippers before the pandemic, will be conducted in two sections. The first is a half-hour service for children who have not learned to read yet that will be conducted with puppets representing characters created for public broadcasting’s Children’s Television Workshop.

The second, for older children under 11 and their families, has been created around a musical performance and liturgy from the Reform movement’s High Holy Days prayer book for families and youth.

Both of the services at the zoo are aimed, according to Rau, at strengthening relationships within the congregation.

“It is easy to do everything virtual. Unfortunately, we really can’t touch the lives of our kids when we’re at such a distance. Relationships are everything to us. And so, we’ve been trying to create ways that we can maintain in-person experiences in a safe way.”

The sermon at the family service is based on a book by Dr. Seuss, penname of Theodor Geisel.

The sermon planned for these services is based on the Dr. Seuss book, “If I Ran the Zoo,” first published by Theodor Geisel in 1950. The volume is part of the astonishing public success of the children’s book series which has sold 600 million copies and been translated into 20 languages. Geisel, who died in 1991, was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, two Academy Awards, two Emmys and a Peabody Award from the University of Georgia for his extensive body of work.

His zoo story tells the tale, in verse, of how a young boy creates his own zoo filled with wildly imagined creatures from all over the world. For Rau, the book echoes the Rosh Hashanah theme of the creation story from The Book of Genesis, which is read in many synagogues and temples.

“This is the idea of bringing us a little bit closer to creation. It’s a wonderful experience for our families. We have a long history of Dr. Seuss-style sermons. The book has been controversial in recent years because of some of the drawings in it, but we’re skipping the controversial parts.”

After the service, Temple members will receive free passes to tour Zoo Atlanta, which completed a costly expansion plan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new construction, which was partially underwritten by Atlanta philanthropists Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, includes a multi-story special events facility that once housed the Atlanta Cyclorama.

The Temple will hold its family service for Rosh Hashanah at the tent-like Ford Pavilion of the Atlanta Zoo.

The building also contains a kosher kitchen, one of the few such facilities at a zoo in the United States.

This is not the first time The Temple has moved services outside during the pandemic. The graduation service for this year’s confirmation class of teens was held on The Temple’s front lawn.

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