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What about the high holy days?

05/24/2020 01:52:56 PM


For weeks we have been following health protocols at Temple Israel to minimize the risk that the coronavirus poses to our sacred community. We followed the guidelines as they were released:  providing hand sanitizing stations around the building, disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing.  

Then we had to close our building for most of our activities.  We conducted services streamed from an empty sanctuary.  When our clergy and staff entered the building, we wore masks, taking them off only to lead services.  We did all of these things because we affirm the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh, saving a life. There is no higher value in Judaism. 

Now we are in a period of transition, a time of change. Other regions in our state are gradually opening up to allow limited activities, and our region will soon follow. We already have the green light to gather together in groups of ten or less for religious services.

After weeks of separation, many of us feel restless.  We wonder when we can move more freely, when we can see family and friends again, when we and our neighbors can get back to work as we did before. I know I have been feeling all of these things.

 It is a time of transition, and times of transition mean uncertainty. We do not want to follow the wrong health protocols and make the wrong decisions, because the consequences can be deadly. 

This is the time to consider how to balance the risk of coming together, even in small groups, with the rewards of coming together. 

It is time to start thinking about the High Holy Days. It is pretty clear that we are not going to be able to gather in large crowds as in past years. And it is not simply gathering in large crowds that poses a danger.  Studies that have shown that there are particular dangers associated with communal singing, whether it be in a choir or a congregation.  There are also risks associated with blowing the shofar in a contained space. 

We have a particular vision of the High Holy days, with crowds and the choir and the shofar blasts. Familiar rituals bring comfort. To imagine them changing this year feels like another loss.  

But change can be positive (something that I remind myself daily).  This is an opportunity to think about what the “essence” of our rituals are.  It is an opportunity to explore what makes the High Holy Days powerful, and how we can reconstruct what we do and experience our rituals in a new way – a way that is meaningful for our time. 

 In the coming weeks, as we begin to plan in this time of transition, if you have expertise to offer, we welcome it.  (Those who are technologically savvy can be especially helpful to us.)  If you have perspectives to offer, we welcome those perspectives too. 

This is our community and we are the ones who make it sacred. I have faith that we will move forward with wisdom and with strength.


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782