We are currently in month eight of a global pandemic. Jews all over the world were forced to tweak their rituals for many holidays. Passover occurred roughly a month into the pandemic. At the time, everyone was desperate for something to “pass us over.” However, given the normal, home-based Passover rituals, switching to an online format was relatively seamless. The readings were read online, the normal menu was available for delivery, and even the seder plate, dishes, and haggadot were delivered to people joining individual services online. In my family, for example, we made all of the dishes, bought the materials for the seder plate, and printed out seder books to drop at the doors of everyone in our family who would be joining us online for Passover.
But the High Holy Days were a different story. The foundation of these holidays is based on being in a synagogue. They are meant to be spent with family and our religious communities to celebrate the year we just ended and the year ahead. The most integral part of the High Holy Days in my life is being able to reflect on the past year, take accountability for my numerous wrongdoings, and acknowledge and let go of that which has burdened me. This year, however, with an increasing emphasis on staying as physically distanced from family and communities as possible, the holidays looked very unusual.
But, we, as Jewish people and human beings, are always able to adapt to the changes in our lives. So, while this time of year will surely look different for all of us, we can still make it meaningful to our communities and ourselves.
Luckily, most synagogues have successfully switched to live-streaming services that are available for both members and nonmembers for free. Even in a time where we can’t physically be a part of our religious communities, we are still able to be inclusive and pray together.
While online services are not ideal, this experience provide many Jews with a great and meaningful High Holy Day experience. We can attend livestream services from home and be able to hear the readings, sermons, choir, and prayers. If you wanted a new synagogue experience, you could tune into a number of synagogues live-streaming their services from around the world. Many synagogues chose to shorten services to be more accessible and compatible in an online format, choosing the most important prayers and readings, such as “Avinu Malkeinu.” There were also be a limited amount of people inside synagogues themselves, so many synagogues have found ways to keep services and traditions alive. We could order traditional meals for Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur break-fast. From pre-recorded choir pieces and shofar blasts to plexiglass shields around pulpits, take home ‘goodie bags’ with siddurim and a selection of apples, honey, and challah, synagogues found ways to make Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur meaningful despite the unfortunate circumstances.
According to the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the most important thing is for us to still be able to “take the core of the holiday and do what Jews have done for 3,000 years and be creative.” Being able to observe the holidays in whatever way you feel comfortable is key to establishing a sense of normalcy during this time. Our religious community has done an incredible job of remaining accessible for these holidays despite Covid-19. If we continue to all do our part to contribute to our communities, this year can be as meaningful to you as any other, and we will be able to observe these and all holidays in as close to a “normal” way as possible.