If we can spare a moment of inward reflection, the coming fall Holidays require our attention. They will be radically different from what we have known in the past. Most of our liturgical elements will, out of health necessity, be streamed; we hope for some in-person components, but this depends on permission from the county and our own internal assessment of health and safety.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are essential times of Jewish gathering and self-reflection. We connect as a community and look towards a new year for inspiration. For many this is the singular Jewish communal connection of the year. So as I (along with Rabbi Graff and Sarah Miller) think through the meaning of the holidays, I am forced to wrestle with their essence.
Everything will be different. What is the core of the holidays? We won’t be together to sing Avinu Malkeynu at the end of Neilah. I know what will be lost; what can be saved? What about that moment and so many others makes them so inspiring and soul-sustaining for us?
I love the feeling of being together at the holidays. I love the singing, I love the chance for study and introspection. I also love sitting with people and talking. Honestly, one of my favorite things is sitting with someone during the service and talking while they aren’t sure whether they should pay attention to the service since the Rabbi is sitting there, or talk to the Rabbi since I am sitting there…
Yet I believe there can be new ways of connecting with the essence of these sacred days. I believe we are a creative people who have survived thousands of years of challenge and persecution. We have the tools of resilience for this.
After the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis of the Mishnah had the courage to connect with their deepest values and radically create a Judaism dedicated to the service of God, the observance of Mitzvot, and the nurturing of the Jewish people. They moved away from a centralized, Temple-based Judaism to an incredibly flexible, decentralized structure based on the Jewish home and the local house of study and prayer.
Kol Emeth, and the Jewish world, needs our shared creativity to create this year a season of celebration that honors our deepest values. So I am turning to you. What are your core values of the Holidays? What are the critical moments that speak to you most deeply?
Drilling down further, what helps you stay connected during a virtual experience? If we can only have small (or no) in-person gatherings, what would you be hoping for in such experiences? If you could hear the Shofar in person with whatever-sized gathering is allowed at that time (almost certain to be between 25-100 people) would you?
I’m attaching a survey with this CyberTorah. For those who aren’t KE members, I still encourage you to respond to the survey. Even though you are connected elsewhere, the complications of this process are vast and I would be grateful for a variety of perspectives.
For all the challenges of the past few months, it has also been a time of renewal and growth. It has helped us as a congregation focus on caring for our members, finding new ways to connect, and to look for how we can bring healing and wholeness to the world. I know we can similarly seize the opportunities to make this High Holidays unique, memorable, and sustaining for us.
Rabbi David Booth
PS: CyberTorah will be on hiatus until mid-August. I’ll be away (or at least on vacation…) for most of July. In the interim, you can view my recent talk on antisemitism and the Black Lives Matter movement.