One of my vivid memories of childhood is walking with my Dad to services every Saturday morning. Although he preferred the Orthodox synagogue, our suburban home was not close enough for him to walk so he settled for the three block Shabbat walk to the Conservative shul, Temple Beth David and saved the long trek for the high holidays. I’m not sure why I ended up being his weekly companion but our routine began when I was about 6 and continued through the years when I graduated from sitting beside him to heading upstairs for Junior Congregation.
What I remember most, though, are the years I sat beside him in the sanctuary. Early on, I didn’t really understand much of what was taking place but I can still feel the silky strings of his tallit as I entertained myself braiding and unbraiding the strands and letting the music and the words wash over me. Even today those melodies are deeply familiar and deeply comforting.
That sense of connection to our faith, history and to my own sense of family is always reinforced for me, regardless of what sanctuary or service I find myself in. There’s always a moment that I feel that intangible click of belonging, of feeling welcome, of feeling safe.
This year, this COVID-wrapped year, everything feels different. Everything we thought of as “normal” has been upended and shaken and we all wonder when, and even if, we will come out the other side. Holidays have been spent without family or friends and while I managed to pull together the requisite apples and honey and some challah, my normally traditional holiday preparations just didn’t happen. It just, we all said, didn’t feel like a holiday.
And what about live streaming services? To watch Kol Nidre, my favorite service, on a computer, what would that be like? I have to admit that I was reluctant, that I was afraid that a service on a screen would not allow me to feel the connection, the closeness, the belonging and the familiarity that I treasure. So with trepidation we made our holidays into virtual holidays. And the truth is that it didn’t matter that I was sitting at my kitchen counter instead of a pew. It didn’t matter that my usual “holiday dress” was leggings and a sweatshirt. What mattered was that this foundation of faith and tradition carried forward and the process didn’t matter as much as the substance.
In a world filled with uncertainty, marking 5781, even in this unconventional way, helped me to remember the strength of faith and community as a foundation. We unite, we support one another and we move forward. May the coming year be one of health, joy and peace for all.