The beginning and the end

During the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), I have two favorite moments. The beginning and the end. That may sound harsh, so please allow me to explain.

Walking into shul with my family, seeing the community, greeting, and hugging friends while knowing we are about to embark on a long and meaningful spiritual journey together – that is one moment I anticipate every year. At the opposite end, as Neilah comes to a close, this powerful service is the culmination of the long and meaningful journey we just completed – and it is also incredibly special to me. This ending is also punctuated with love, “shana tova’s” and lots of hugs. I suppose you can say that these holidays are bookended for me with hugs. The beginning and the end.

I can’t predict what my favorite moments will be this year. We know for certain that there will be no hugs. There will be love and “shana tova’s” from 6’ apart. I know that as my shul has staggered and limited occupancy for safety reasons, I will not see the usual faces around me at the services I attend. It will all be different, or dare I say “strange.”  As an educator, I realize that this year brings an increased importance to make these days meaningful for our children, in school, and at home/in shul – this is one of our biggest responsibilities right now. 

Not all of us will have in-person options – many of you will be connecting to the power of these days from your own homes. You may have family next to you, or you may be observing the days on your own. What will remain the same, is that we (along with the beautiful Torahs) will still be cloaked in white as we daven and sing the traditional melodies. 

These customs and rituals are the tools we lean on to help us focus on being better humans and to be introspective, as these days call for. We can still do this work – even without those tools in front of us. Therein lies the challenge of a pandemic-modified High Holy Days. We have to figure out how to, as Jews and as Americans, bring kedusha and mitzvot into our world and make the changes that we each decide to make without a packed shul, the communal davening, the meals with friends and family, and the festive nature of these days. I plan to keep my eye on the prize, even as the view of the Yamim Noraim will certainly look different. 

My plan is also to refocus my lens. Instead of scrutinizing the “strange and different” parts of the days, I am going to be deliberate in finding those things that mean the most to me. I may not get to see everyone in shul, so I will have to be more intentional to connect with people in other ways. I will choose to hone in on appreciating those people that I do get to see and connect with, albeit from a 6’ distance.

We each will have to look for and articulate our new favorite moments this year. I promise you, they do exist. There are special and important nuances of this “new normal” that will stand out in your mind as a favorite. You may have to look a little harder, and with more intention – yet, I know we will each find them. This is something valuable to model as our children observe us during the holidays. They are watching and they are noticing.

This season of G-d’s closeness is all about rejuvenation, resetting, focusing on our goals, and connecting to G-d and one another. As Jews, we have stood the test of time. We will make it through this challenging and uncertain time and come out stronger as we always do. 

 כתיבה וחתימה טובה (May you be inscribed in the book of life)

About the Author
Rabbi Ari Leubitz is the Head of School for Atlanta Jewish Academy, an infant through 12th-grade school. Rabbi Leubitz also cherishes his time as a mentor at the Day School Leadership Training Institute.
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