What’s Rosh Hashana going to look like this year?

By Eve Levy

What’s Rosh Hashana going to look like this year? I ponder for the umpteenth time, as I make my phone calls.

“Hello? This is Eve Levy calling from Congregation Ahavath Achim. How are you?
So nice to hear your voice too!
How are you and your family doing?
Yes, I know, strange times indeed…
I’m actually calling and taking a survey, trying to feel out what our congregants would like to see for the upcoming high holidays.
If we were to hold some in-person services would you even consider coming?”

Long pause.
Heavy sigh.
Keep going Eve, plow ahead. Give them more information.

“We are looking into various options with safety being our #1 priority. We are considering having our services outdoors in a huge tent. We will have a few time options to keep the numbers in each group small and safely distanced…
Yes, lots of fresh air from all sides of the open tent…
Yes, of course, we will be adhering to strict social distancing at all times.
Yes, masks will be required, and provided as well at the door in case someone forgets….”

The conversation goes on and on.

It will be a shortened service, two hours max.
No one will be called up to the Torah.
No auction fundraiser this year.
No big lavish kiddish lunch following services.

We discuss the myriad of security issues posed on holding these services outdoors. We discuss taking all participants temperatures upon entering the tent with a special non-muktza, halachickly acceptable, thermometer. We discuss the sanitization of prayer books and cleaning crews coming in and out in between services.

There are so many details that my head is spinning.
I have to remind myself that this is Rosh Hashana that I am talking about and not a Purim circus. It all feels so strange.

We are three weeks away and we have no clue what the holidays will actually look like. Try as we might, we have no clue. I sense people’s frustration. When will this be over already?

But If COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that we are not in charge.
Did we ever actually think we were?!
Well, the joke is on us, turns out we are not.

The only thing I know for sure is that no matter what transpires over the next few weeks and the next few hours of my phone calls, no matter how big or small the tent will be or if we will even go ahead with it altogether, no matter how much the weather will (or will not) hold up for us, no matter how long it will take us to set up the synagogue outdoors, measure out six feet between all seats, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen Rosh Hashana will arrive on its date and we will show up in our own way. We will crown G-d as our king. It will look different, that’s the only thing that is for certain, but no matter what it looks like it will be special.

But here’s the silver lining. I’m seeing something so beautiful rise to the top through the chaos and the unknown. I’m seeing a passion and a thirst that I have not felt or seen in a long time. I am watching in awe as my husband and the board of our synagogue are acting passionately, fired up and ready to put all their energy and money into the upcoming holidays and make it meaningful for our congregants, however that will look.

I have never heard and felt such a thirst from our community members. The yearning in their voices is palpable. It’s so strong and loud and it’s coming across the phone waves so clearly. I hear it. I feel it. It’s actually quite inspiring to me. Hope is not lost.

Often we take things for granted until we no longer have them. Each call I make, each person, with all their varied opinions and unique beliefs and limitations has their heart in the right place. Each person is doing exactly what they need to be doing, what feels safe and good and what feels right for them.

There is no judgment, only respect, awe, devotion,and excitement to once again come back to the synagogue and serve G-d together and hug one another, and sing and dance and make l’chaims and celebrate our Judaism.

This upcoming High Holiday season will be one that we will never forget. No matter what happens in the world around us, these holy days will still arrive in just three short weeks. The question is: how will we show up for them?

Eve Levy is a trip leader at Momentum, Rabissa/Rebetzion at Congregation Ahavath Achim and Executive Director at Inspired Jewish Women.

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