I thought my Rosh Hashanah plans were settled a few weeks ago, but now with delta, floods and the general continued feeling of societal mayhem, I’m not sure I want to go to services this week. Last year felt like I had a “pass” because so many synagogues were virtual, but this year, I could go, I’m just not sure I want to. How should I decide what to do?
Nah to the New Year
If the last 18 months have taught us anything, for better or for worse, it’s that everyone is going to make their own decisions regardless of communal standards or expectations. At the same time, the up-in-the-air-ness of communal plans changing has also been challenging to keep up with and to square away with one’s one personal sense of comfort. It’s no wonder you’re entering the new year without an obvious plan.
While I agree last year was more clear-cut in terms of staying away from indoor spaces, you are in good company wanting to avoid them this year as well. Plenty of synagogues are opting for virtual or hybrid services, outdoor services in tents or gathering in person only for ritual experiences like shofar blowing or tashlich (a short ceremony for Rosh Hashanah traditionally done near a natural body of water, where people symbolically cast off their sins by throwing crumbs into the water).
Just like synagogues aren’t doing only one thing, you don’t have to make an all-or-nothing decision either. You can go to parts of services and leave. You could only go the second day when things are likely to be less crowded. You can watch services from home or even on a device while taking a walk if that fits with your religious practices. You can read High Holiday reflections at home alone or talk to a friend, or eat apples and honey while watching the sunset or any number of things that might make the upcoming days feel special without feeling like you’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
When it comes to meals, if you’ve been invited somewhere and are reconsidering that, too, be sure to give the hosts as much notice as possible. (I realize I’m writing this Monday morning and the holiday starts tonight. On the one hand, it would be annoying to have a guest cancel the day off, and on the other hand, in COVID times, plans tend to feel more fluid than ever before, and I suspect your host would understand.) You could also ask whether meals could be outdoors, or windows could be open, or masks could be on when not eating. Again, it may be too late for these questions now, but leading up to Sukkot (when eating outdoors is the norm anyway!) these may be helpful questions to have in mind.
Hopefully, this practical advice will get you in a practical mindset going into the holiday, though I suspect your question is actually less about the physicality of celebrating a holiday during a pandemic and more about the spirituality of it.
While you can’t force yourself to feel a spiritual awakening just because it’s Rosh Hashanah, putting yourself in the path of community, potentially meaningful experiences and time to reflect on the themes of the holiday may make you feel better — or feel something — more than sitting at home.
It’s been a really hard year. No one will fault you for making a choice this holiday season that feels the least difficult to you, so try not to fault yourself either.
Shana tova u’metukah, wishing you a sweet and happy new year, and be well,