There is no question that preparing for Rosh Hashanah right now provides a strange moment in an even stranger year. We will be celebrating our new year beginning this week and, for the most part, doing so in ways that feel anything but “usual” or “normal.” For elders who live in residential facilities, services may take place in hallways or via closed circuit but the gathering, the social interaction, the shared worship experience just cannot take place.
Holiday meals will still contain the same elements, from the chicken soup through the brisket to the honey cake. We will still have apples and honey as we pray for a sweet year ahead for all. But serving that meal on a tray in a room, or alone at home with your immediate family, is not the holiday we know and the holiday we look forward to every year.
COVID has changed our world in many ways. Of course the loss of life and serious illness that many have faced is the most significant impact. But for all of us, and especially for older adults, the ripple effect is tremendous.
Holidays are those times that we gather our friends and families, we unite generations and introduce our children to those traditions we hold dear. We felt the disruption this year at Passover but, at that time, COVID was new to us, the situation in our area more acute and intense so we all made do for what we thought was just a once in a lifetime loss. Now we face the start of 5781, now we head into the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, and we do so in a world marked by uncertainty for what comes next.
How do we bridge that divide this year? How do we keep our elders from feeling alone and our children and grandchildren from losing the opportunity to build a memory? Rather than sit alone at our holiday tables, this is the year to connect with elders virtually, either before or during the holiday. Ask them about their holiday memories, to share a story of holidays in their youth. Record it or jot down notes and take screen shots. Ask them what they hope the coming year will bring. Give the children and grandchildren an opportunity to share their own holiday wishes with the elder. Maybe it’s a video greeting card, maybe there are cards or drawings or crayoned pictures, maybe there are photos as the family gathers that can be sent to the older adult, either via mail or electronically. We must find ways to hold onto what’s important and not let the virus have this victory. COVID has already taken far too much from us and from our elders.
When I think about my own New Year prayers, my usual entreaties for the health of our families and friends are superseded by my fervent prayer for the health of our country and of our world. That is joined by a prayer that our elders not be forgotten, that their value be remembered and their wisdom be honored, at the holidays and every day.