Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell
Our High Holy Days are, potentially, sacred opportunities for renewal, rededication, and redirection, designed to do more than help us face our
present circumstances and challenges. They can be a catalyst to motivate us to use our present realities and the lessons learned from them, to create a better, more meaningful future for ourselves, our families, our community and, indeed, the world. That, I suggest, is the purpose of every High Holy Days, but that goal is brought into high definition by our present realities. So, then, how can we use the High Holy Days to enable us to do more than cope with what is, but to help us to create a better future for ourselves and for others?
This year our Temple Beth Sholom community will be observing the High Holy Days via the medium of the Internet. Most of us will access services through our television or computer screens rather than from within the hallowed precincts of our TBS sanctuary. But, we can pray anywhere — no space, no matter how humble or mundane, is devoid of God’s Presence. And so, we can create an echo of k’dushah to connect us, renew us, and bring us meaningful High Holy Days experiences. Cantor Reinwald and I, along with our TBS staff and leadership, are determined to provide services that will unite and inspire us and help us to encounter the coming year with faith and hope.
Additionally, there are things that we can do to enhance and effectualize those services for our families and for ourselves. Here are some suggestions for preparing ourselves and to create a sacred space in place and time at home.
Have special meals for the Holy Days. Even if you live alone, prepare meals for the evenings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, for lunch on Rosh Hashanah, and a break fast at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. Set a table with candles, challah, wine or grape juice and your holiday flatware and dishes (even if it is only one place setting). If possible, connect with family and friends via the Internet and share your holiday meal complete with blessings. On Erev Rosh Hashanah you may wish to observe the Sephardic custom of a Rosh Hashanah Seder with special foods, including apples and honey. (There is a downloadable version of the Seder at https://tbsoc.com/.) Plan for a group discussion, perhaps make a list of goals and aspirations for the coming year. Discuss how you can use the experience of these unusual High Holy Days to provide for a better future.
For services, prepare yourself and your surroundings to create a sacred atmosphere. Put on the clothes that you might wear were you to attend services “in person.” Don’t just sit there as a spectator! If you are able, rise and be seated, when the prayers call for it. Participate — sing along, read the prayers, and respond.
This year may be different in so many ways, but the eternal message of these sacred moments of prayer, contemplation and resolve still resonates, perhaps even more so than in years gone by. Together, with God’s blessing, we will get through the challenges and travails of the present and emerge stronger with our faith affirmed, and our hopes for the future fixed firmly in our hearts. With this resolve, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life with signatures of blessing.
“Together, with God’s blessing, we will get through the challenges and travails of the present and emerge stronger with our faith affirmed, and our hopes for the future fixed firmly in our hearts.”
This article is taken from Our Voices Newsletter, Issue #7: High Holy Days 2020. Read the newsletter in full.