Facebook Post by Rabbi Perlin in the Time of Coronavirus (5/8/2020)

Friday Post 5.8.20:  The High Holy Days This Week

by Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

Every rabbi knows that Leviticus 23:24 commands us to observe what is later called Rosh Hashanah with “loud blasts.”  Every spring, when this weekly portion of Emor came along, I would read the command to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and immediately begin thinking about High Holy Day sermons, followed by High Holy Day services and honors.  Being a list maker and calendar controller, I would start mapping out my life with a countdown to the biggest synagogue celebration of the year. Jews who never go to temple, find their way to synagogues for the High Holy Days, and clergy know that it is important to make sure they have a great experience.

With synagogues closed, many clergy are working 24/7 to provide meaningful worship and prayerful experiences each week, at great effort and sacrifice.  And now the discussions and questions abound on social media:  “What will we do for High Holy Days?”  “Will synagogues be open?” and if not, “Do we have the technology to provide a meaningful experience to our members?”  “Will we have members come the fall?”  The stress of this week’s Torah command is greater than ever before on so many levels.

With Germany highlighting this week that even if churches are allowed to open that they may have to ban singing, as singing is the equivalent of coughing on people and choir members came down with Covid-19 in record numbers, music will be quite a challenge.  We can take heart in the Zoom choirs that have cropped up all over the internet, as people are learning to sing in harmony and social distance at the same time.

As a congregant now, thankfully in retirement and not having to deal with these stresses first hand, I don’t know that I will have the courage to go to temple for the “great Jewish family reunion this fall,” no matter what coast I am on. I know the command to hear the shofar and be a part of the service is important, but is it worth jeopardizing my health or Gary’s at our ages?  Gary is 69 today, thank God healthy, and I want to keep it that way.  No love for the Jewish people and God is worth jeopardizing our health, is it?

And let’s face it – who knows what tomorrow will bring, let alone the fall?  Friday night, September 18th is a long way off, in some respects, for those of us trying to live through the day-to-day in this pandemic’s social isolation.  We could be facing the next wave of a pandemic that might be out of control by fall, as happened in 1918.  Humans rarely learn from history, or suffer sacrifices for very long, especially in today’s sound-bite, Twitterverse.

I don’t envy my colleagues.  My heart goes out to all of them.  Amidst embracing unfamiliar technologies and consoling congregants in fear and grief, High Holy day uncertainty looms on everyone’s horizon.

Psalm 121:1 asks, “from where will my help come?”  The answer is Passover.  Look how amazingly the Jewish world adapted!  Zoom seders became the norm and families gathered who had not been together for the holidays in years, if ever.  We showed how resilient we are, and we will do it again.  But, it was all possible, because the professional Jewish world put materials out there to make virtual seders possible.

The High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are not home holidays.  They are synagogue holidays.  So, here is the first thing we can all do to support our clergy. Belong to synagogues and support synagogues.  Even if you can get free services streamed to your computer, out there in cyberspace are clergy, staff, temple buildings, and Jewish communities that need your support, now more than ever.

Want to keep this week’s Torah commandments?  Keep our synagogues strong and our clergy employed. Without them, there is no hope that we will be able to gather to hear the shofar this year, and for years to come.

Shabbat Shalom.