Dear Miriam | Can You Opt Out of Virtual Worship?

John Theodor, iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dear Miriam,

My synagogue is having only virtual High Holiday services this year. I absolutely support this from the public health perspective, but from a personal and spiritual perspective, it leaves me feeling flat. Can I opt out this year?

Virtually Rosh Hashanah

Dear Virtually,

The High Holidays are going to look and feel unfamiliar this year, for sure. Even those congregations that are finding as safe as possible ways to have services in person won’t look like they usually do, with little to no singing, abbreviated services and social distancing.

Very little in life meets our expectations these days, and Rosh Hashanah is just the next occurrence in the series of 2020 experiences no one could have imagined a year again.

I don’t care whether you log into services or not. But I can tell you that rabbis and cantors and service leaders all over Philly and beyond have engaged in an intricate levels of creativity and innovation to create online experiences that aim to be meaningful and interactive.

There are at-home guides for celebrating. There are High Holiday care packages. There are opportunities to pray alone in synagogue sanctuaries. In addition to virtual services, there are online discussion groups and Torah study and yoga classes and Zoom rooms set aside just for schmoozing.

With all of these creative ideas out there, even if you don’t want to do services online, I would bet that you can find something during Rosh Hashanah that would help you feel like there’s a holiday going on. Maybe you hum some familiar melodies to yourself at home, or take a taschlich walk with a friend to a river. Maybe you can send cards to family members or savor your apples and honey while trying to center yourself in just how strange everything is.

Sure, you can opt out. That’s always an option. You can opt out of Rosh Hashanah services any year. No one is forcing you to be there.

But I don’t think your question is really about opting out of online services. Rather, I suspect that your feelings are a more global mourning of the loss of the holidays as we know them and an expression of the unbearable challenges of this moment in time.

Thinking about the year that’s ending and what’s ahead in the year to come is central to the themes of the holiday. If going online isn’t the experience you want, that’s completely fair, but give yourself permission to embrace the holiday for whatever it is.

Be well and shana tova,



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here