High Holidays in New Ways

July 2, 2020 in Rabbi Greg Harris

Zochreynu l’chayim melech chafetz b’chayim v’chatveynu b’sefer hachayim l’ma’ancha elohim chayim

“Remember us for life, Sovereign who delights in life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, God of life.”

While it is not even the Fourth of July yet, many of us have already been looking at the High Holidays.  (Erev Rosh Hashanah is Friday night, September 18.)  As we have already announced, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we will be gathering as a community primarily on-line.  It will not be possible to safely have thousands of people worship together in the sanctuaries, hallways, and classrooms of Beth El while maintaining the physical distancing required.

As the leadership team has been managing the vast number of decisions required to navigate us through this moment, we all feel a real sense of loss as well.  Even as legal and practical requirements make decisions like this obvious… I am sad to think that I will not be able to offer and receive the hugs, handshakes, and connections in the same way this year.  The hallways will be far more quiet.

With that sense of “glass half full” though, I also have a strong feeling of excitement about what we will create together.  None of us can take these High Holidays for granted.  As a community, we must be intentional about how we prepare for these spiritual Holy Days.  Whereas we might have made some general plans for meals and simply showed up for services in the past… this year will require more from each of us.  The spiritual and emotional preparations prior to the holidays will be more important this year to set our individual course for these meaningful days of reflection and connection. The clergy are already engaged in penciling out new experiences and adjusting familiar ones for this new format.

Some of the questions animating us include:

  • How do we create moments of ‘community connection’ in a virtual environment?
  • How does the traditional service adapt to this new medium?
  • What new possibilities exist in this on-line format? (alternative services? parallel study / discussion sessions? neighborhood based experiences? Torah Yoga? meditation? Family experiences? etc.)
  • How do we assure all of this still feels like “Beth El” as we pivot to a new format?  It must always feel organic to our synagogue culture even as we are doing many new things.
  • And so many more questions!

Realizing we will not be in the sanctuaries on the High Holidays, many people have asked how they can buy copies of Machzor Lev Shalem (or other prayerbooks).  Please fill out this form and we will make a bulk order.

Hazzan Fradkin, Rabbi Werbin and I are excited about creating something which is both familiar in many aspects and new in other ways.  For example, Rabbi Jess Minnen will join us again to lead family programming… from her home in Denver, CO.

In the midst of the Jewish Quarter in Prague sits the Altneuschul – the Old – New Synagogue.  It was built in 1270. Maybe that is exactly what we are echoing now as we balance the modalities, melodies and experiences of Old and New to face pandemic conditions with vibrancy, connection and spiritual meaning.

Below is Hazzan Isadoro Abramowicz from the Synagoge Pestalozzistraße in Berlin, Germany.  He is singing Zochreynu l’chayim.  

PS – Hazzan Abramowicz was born in Buenos Aires!