Another year is behind us. We are once again on the doorstep of the High Holidays of Tishrei yet we remain living in the shadow of a pandemic. Last year, we learned firsthand that our tefilot must go on whether they are in backyards or neighborhood parks. But this year we are presented with a new challenge: the government, as it currently appears, has shied away from instituting limits on our synagogues and the few guidelines they have put in place aren’t being implemented or enforced.
The reality is that we are all exhausted from this whole process. Extremely exhausted, but I would say that particularly now, we need to stay focused and the responsibility has to be shifted to us.
In the face of the current challenges, every community has the responsibility to look out for the welfare of its own members and constituents and can’t just rely on what might be legally permitted or prohibited.
On a very practical level in advance of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I would therefore call for the re-opening of tefilot in outdoor spaces, gardens and parking lots. Batei Knesset should reduce the number of people inside buildings to the minimum necessary to allow for proper tefila. Shuls should be accessed only by those who have already properly vaccinated and received the additional doses when relevant. Every attention should be paid to creating a well-ventilated space with masking and social distancing carefully observed. Those communities with large numbers of children or others who aren’t vaccinated should move the tefilot to outdoor spaces.
We fully recognize that there is a price to pay in terms of the nature of the tefila and the overall experience and we know that a shul is designed to be a welcoming and educational space for children and adults but we need to be sure that we are doing everything possible to protect those who might be vulnerable to the virus.
This time of year demands of us to engage in repentance and introspection. But the most important aspect of our personal conduct must first and foremost be on how we defend life and work to protect ourselves and others. As a people who are asked to embrace a path of service of Hashem, we have no right or privilege to say that we are too tired or frustrated to observe the restrictions that can save human life.
At the very heart of the Rosh Hashana service is the request from God for a good and long life. Those prayers lose almost all meaning if we aren’t doing our share to make that tefila the reality.