High Holy Days: Finding Community During a Time of Isolation

September 08, 2020

High Holy Days:  Finding Community During a Time of Isolation

It’s hard not to approach the High Holy Days this year from a perspective of what won’t be. We will not be gathering in synagogues to pray and socialize with our communities; loved ones who live a plane ride away won’t be traveling home to celebrate; and, instead of crowded holiday tables, we’ll be having our meals with those in our household, to name a few.

While we might have difficulty imagining that we’ll be able to feel the same sense of celebration and satisfaction when the holidays are over, it is important to remember what we can do by focusing on those experiences that are still available to each of us.

The essence of this penitential season is the spiritual work of teshuva, or repentance. We can look back on the year that has passed and ask ourselves: Where did I miss the mark? Did I wrong anyone last year? How can I do better in the coming year? This is ‘work’ we do on our own, and in these days most of us have time for self-reflection. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/repentance/

Hearing the sound of the shofar and the Kol Nidre melody are highlights of the season. While we can’t gather to hear them live and in person, we can join a synagogue community online, or listen to recordings. No, it won’t be the same as being there, but we can allow the sounds to help us experience the soulful mood and meaning of the holidays. (Kol Nidre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXIbbLqlQ10, Shofar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJi0DVCfWQI )

And of course, the High Holidays come with specific foods that we look forward to enjoying. We eat foods symbolizing the sweetness of the year to come including honey cake and apples with honey. We eat round Challot, as Rosh Hashanna celebrates the birthday of the world, and the image of G-d we hold at this time is the sovereign, who wears a (round) crown and sits on the throne of judgement. Even if you don’t have access to the full holiday menu, hopefully an apple and some honey are within your reach, and you can enjoy them with the following blessing:

I know for myself that the best day of the year is always the day after Yom Kippur. Having made it through the intensity of the fast, and with the deep reflective work behind me, I always feel renewed, hopeful and looking forward to the year ahead. (Not to mention I can begin the day with a cup of coffee!). Wherever we will have spent the holidays, no matter how easy or difficult our fast was, the future will come to be. Therein lies the opportunity to be hopeful that whenever ‘normality’ can return, we will enjoy gathering and celebrating in person with our loved ones and our friends.

L’shanah tova umetukah: May you and your dear ones be blessed with a good and sweet new year!

- Rabbi Judith Beiner, JF&CS Community Chaplain