The shul we live in requires us to keep it clean, prepare the Kiddush and do the myriad activities necessary for a shul to function. On weekday mornings, I wake up at around 7 to the chanting of the liturgy, beginning with “psukei d zimra,” downstairs in the living room. I usually emerge sometime after the “Shema” figuring that “hear O Israel” means me! I see my husband in his tallit and tfilin at the dining room table, participating in the Zoom service that our shul, down the block, offers. I think he’s getting used to davening this way. It doesn’t seem strange any more. That in itself is strange.
Of course all of this is due to the curse of corona. We, like you, are accommodating our lives to social distancing, which means normal shul experience is inappropriate for us. That’s an outrageous comment from a Jew, but in these pandemic times it happens to be true. So we’ve got a new normal and it mostly works. Shabbat, however, is a big challenge. Normally attending a Saturday service via Zoom would be unthinkable with its dependence on electricity and a computer. But for liberal Jews like we are, he adapted and is a regular attendee. The feeling, and it was a feeling not law of course, was that we can’t let this damned covid19 take everything away from us. So, he attends on the Sabbath and I do not. That’s just the way it is. We are not practicing a new religion or even new standards of an old one. If and when this virus ever leaves us, we will certainly want to resume walking down the block to our shul and rejoicing at finally being together at services with our beloved fellow congregants. But while he’s praying downstairs, I’m quite certain that that return, already a long long time in coming, is high up on his list of wishes, along with the misheberachs, the prayer for Israel, and the many other components of heartfelt prayer. His conversations with our God are always serious and respectful. He worships. He doesn’t argue.
So we’ve had this all worked out. Until now. In a very short time the famous “chagim” will be here. How’s that going to work? Going to shul is not a possibility. Perhaps 25 people will be allowed to be there, a far cry from the usual multi-hundreds. And implicit in that small group are the various mandates and even some things not mandated but of concern anyway. Is blowing the Shofar going to spread virus aerosols through the air? Is reading from the Torah with its incumbent crowd of gabbayim and honorees going to allow social distancing? Can you greet a friend with blessings for the New Year and get close so it seems sincere? Can you even visit the rest room? The real problem with this virus is still how little is known. That is what is known!
So, bottom line, we won’t be in shul for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or the many chagim, holy days, that follow. No, not us. The only time I recall missing shul for High Holyday services was in Jerusalem in 1973. And it wasn’t because of the war which sent everyone home midway through the services. No. I had a strep throat and was confined to bed. That of course changed when the adrenaline coursed through my body as the sirens shrieked their shocking announcement. Hear O Israel, we have been attacked. Find your wandering children and retreat to the bomb shelter.
But since that terrible day, like most of us, when Rosh Hashana arrives I am bedecked with new clothes and deep reflection as I contemplate the coming year. I have normally cooked up a storm, far more than our shrinking household will ever eat. Our children and grandchildren, and now two great-grandchildren, usually celebrate at their own homes and their own shuls. This is the way of life and we are happy when they enjoy the festive meals and beautiful worship at their own shuls.
This year is a whole new ballgame. Many of our children and grandchildren are going to be with us. They will sleep at the nearby hotel and eat meals, covid19 style, at family units with social distancing observed. The usually lavish meal will be far simpler and served on disposables. We’ve ordered another table so each family unit can have their own and we will work more on the logistics. I will do all the cooking and I’ve already started by making and freezing challot. We will go through a lot of challah for sure.
But what about the davening? It will definitely be weather dependent. It cannot be indoors. Social distancing just won’t work with our limited indoor space. So we will set up awnings and chairs and a bema behind our home, hoping the neighbors will not complain and the gardeners won’t show up with their lawn mowers. And that’s when we will know we actually do live in the shul.
So that’s our plan for ushering in 5781, a year like no other. Of course, no year is like any other. Our holy days have come during wars, the Shoah, and personal crises and tragedies. This has been true throughout the ages. This year, as always, we will not see into the hearts and souls of those we pray with and those we long to pray with. But there is no doubt at all that each of us will pray for an end to this absurd being called corona. How can something so inconsequential wreak such havoc? I pray, along with you and all of mankind, that we will soon be back in our own shuls, or wherever we choose to be, in good health, corona be damned!