(Ethan Weiser’22/Managing editor)
Over this September 18-20 weekend, Jews around the world celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, marking the change from 5780 to 5781.
Some things were the same this year as in most years: my house smelled like chicken soup, I ate apples and honey, I attended services, and I felt change in the world as it grew one year older.
Not all of this change has been good, however. Jewish American hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg unfortunately passed on the final day of 5780, right as my family finished our bowls of chicken soup. The race for the presidency is growing nearer, and politics are seeping into everything, especially things they shouldn’t be a part of. The Coronavirus still keeps us in check as conditions could change in a split second.
There were also immense changes to our celebration. Instead of having the usual group of nearly 20 people at my house for dinner, our party was limited to just five: my immediate family plus my grandma, who ate distanced from us. For her to even be comfortable in our house, we all had to wear masks at all times unless we were eating.
But the biggest change was the virtual services. On the first morning of Rosh Hashanah, rather than waking up early, dressing up, and heading to Synagogue for one of the most packed services of the year, everyone in my congregation who wasn’t participating in the service just rolled out of bed and watched the event from home.
This went much better than expected, but it was strange to only see one rabbi and one cantor on the bima (stage), praying while distanced from each other and wearing masks. It was even stranger when our video started lagging in the middle of a prayer and we had to refresh the service.
Even though I was participating from the comfort of my own home (and wearing casual clothing) with my family, I felt uncomfortable and lonely. Praying with only four other people felt barren. I’m used to praying with upwards of 300 people at this time of year, and the prayers themselves seemed to lose meaning without the whole congregation chanting them together in person. It was tough to feel any religious connection when we were so disconnected from our friends and fellow Jews.
But the rabbi’s sermon changed my dismalness. He talked about how his kids once brought home a caterpillar, but when they woke up one morning, it disappeared. They were surprised to find it under a shell in their house: it had made its own home in their home. He then compared this to what we should try to do with our religion and spirituality: find a home for it in ours.
This struck a chord with me as I sat on my living room couch, perhaps the least religious or spiritual place on this earth, and reminded me that the prayers don’t have to take place in a Synagogue to be meaningful. They can have meaning even on your sofa, if you just let them be at home within you.
Apply this same principle to hope, and our ever-changing world looks a little less grim.
Shana Tovah – to a sweet new year for us all!