We will be gathering on Zoom for High Holyday services again this year. Of course, I would rather be physically together – singing together, crowding side by side under outstretched tallitot on the bimah for the group aliyot, and hugging in the aisles. But spiritual practice is perpetually a practice of meeting reality with an open heart, with all the limitations and possibilities it contains. So, given that the inner and outer revolution of teshuvah (repentance, repair, renewal!) will indeed be televised, here are some ways to prepare and to make it as alive, engaged, meaningful and revolutionary as possible.
Here’s what you can do:
1) Connect with one another before Rosh Hashana and during the High Holydays:
Reach out to members and neighbours with a phone call, take a walk, wish each other Shana Tova. There are also various programs throughout Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur that are outdoors and in person – shofar blowing, tashlich, Second Day Rosh Hashana learning and picnic, neighbourhood apples and honey, Yom Kippur afternoon sessions. Whether you’re a veteran DJC member or new, please think of yourself as the official welcoming committee and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Help introduce and connect people to one another. Find out how folks are doing and extend warmth and welcome. Let’s make sure that no one in our community is marking this time alone, and let’s strengthen the lines of connection between us.
2) Turn your Home into a Shul:
Put thought into setting up your space to make it a sanctuary. Orient your chairs to face east. Decorate with flowers and beautiful fabrics. Clear away clutter and have room move. Dress for the occasion. It’s true that no one will know if you are wearing pants. Nonetheless, greet the New Year wearing clothes that feel celebratory and special. Inhabit the solemn radiance of Yom Kippur by wearing white, a symbolic death shroud, as we die to our old selves, face our mortality and embody a sense of being cleansed and renewed.
3) Gather Prayer-ephenalia – Acquire what you can, and get creative:
Dust off your best kippah or make a new one (extra points for a matching kippah and mask set!)
If you don’t own a tallit and would like to wear one, you can buy one or borrow one from the DJC by contacting Anne Shaddick – firstname.lastname@example.org. A tallit is worn post-bnei mitzvah age on Rosh Hashana mornings and all of Yom Kippur, from Kol Nidrei to Neila.
For Erev Rosh Hashana, have at the ready – 2 Candles, grape juice or wine, 2 challot (traditionally round with raisins), apples and honey;
For Rosh Hashana Day 1 and 2 – Grape juice/wine, 2 challot, apples and honey;
For Kol Nidrei – 2 Candles, and a Yahrzeit candle if immediate family members have died.
For Neilah – Havdalah candle (candle with 3 or more wicks, or you can stick 3 candles together), juice/wine, spices (eg. cloves, cinnamon). And if you have a shofar for the last blast, have it ready!
And while you’re thinking about Judaica in your home, Sukkot is only 5 days after Yom Kippur! This is the perfect year to build a sukkah if you can and to celebrate with a lulav and etrog. They can be ordered in advance from Judaica stores.
4) The Revolution Begins with You:
Prayer doesn’t work. Ritual doesn’t work. Meditation doesn’t work. YOU work. It is always true that it is not up to the rabbi, cantor, choir and other speakers to make the services meaning or transformative for you. All the more so this year. Take some time this week for cheshbon hanefesh/soul accounting, reflecting on who you have been and what our society has been in the past year – taking stock, making amends, giving tzedakah and taking steps to increase justice and compassion, all laying the groundwork for the practices of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to help us grow into the people we intend to be. What daring and important commitments will you make for the year ahead?
What prayers can you explore in advance, deepening your understanding and connection with the services? What learning would make these days more fruitfully challenging, relevant and meaningful? Some great resources: myjewishlearing.com; hadar.org; jewishemergentnetwork.org; reconstructingjudaism.org.
Get ready to sing: while the experience of sitting in your home and singing along might feel awkward or strange to some of you, remember that no one else can hear you. Even if you think you have a crummy voice, sing anyway. How liberating might it be to sing like you’ve never sung before, giving genuine voice to your soul! Take time to learn the words and become familiar with some melodies – hadar.org/tefillah-music.
I believe that we can create something truly moving, humanly connected, importantly relevant and soulful together. I very much look forward to seeing each of your faces on screen, singing together, learning from each other and being exactly what Jewish community is meant to be to carry one another through these challenging and precious times. May this year be filled with health, creativity, sincerity, courage and love.