Stepping Into the High Holidays

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, August 28, 2020 / 8 Elul 5780

Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs is primarily a recap of some comments I gave at our Town Hall Meeting last Sunday on some ways to prepare for our unique High Holiday season this year. Those suggestions are practical and spiritual in nature; their aim remains the same–helping us help ourselves be ready for an experience that will be quite novel in some ways because of the pandemic.

Last Sunday, CNS held its second Town Hall meeting by Zoom. These meetings are an innovation by Glen Coblens, whose presidency is already being defined by the importance of, as he puts it, over-communicating during this unprecedented time. The topic we addressed was our changed High Holiday celebrations, which seems particularly important given how many changes we will see this year.

We had a solid turnout of around 80 congregants who participated to learn about the synagogue’s plans and to get answers to their questions. I suspect that many of you who weren’t able to attend that session have your own questions, so I want to include here some of that content.

One concern individuals had was understanding when and how they would receive the password needed to access our on-line offerings. It is very important that everyone registers this year, whether or not you are a congregant. This serves a couple of functions. First, it gives us clearer idea of numbers so that we can ensure that we have proper capacity for anyone who wishes to attend. The primary reason for registration is for security reasons. This year we are allowing non-members to participate at no cost; for the above reasons, though, we are therefore asking you not to share your passcode with family members who are not members or who live elsewhere in the country.

After Labor Day, all CNS congregants and registered guests will reciee a letter providing specific details about access to all High Holiday services and programs. While the building may be closed, our community is open.

This year, more than ever, each of us needs to take on a bit more responsibility for what our experiences of the holidays will be like. This is because even though the entire CNS staff has been working diligently to make these services and this season meaningful, so much will be different.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Simultaneously, we all deal with change and disruption differently. Some of us roll with the punches, and others really struggle when our routine gets out of sorts. Given that, I want to offer some practical suggestions and some spiritual suggestions. I hope that these will offer some useful guidance to transform the novelty of our upcoming Yamim Noraim into the powerful and meaningful experience that so many of us have been working to provide. This year, we all have our part to play in this.

Let’s address the practical suggestions first.

How To Use This Season: Some Practical Suggestions

  1. If you are not a regular Shabbat attendee, or haven’t taken part in any of our streamed web-based services, I encourage you to do so in the next weeks. If you can get more familiar with the platform and the technology—and not only the technology, but also how you relate to and experience services when they do require a computer, you will be more ready to enjoy the holiday experience we have planned for you. In conversation, some of you have mentioned to me that trying to pray out of the prayerbook on your own feels like an immense challenge. I believe that “warming up” in the above way will help you to navigate this novel form of praying together while apart.
  2. For those who have what is known as a smart tv, you will probably have a better experience if you can figure out how watch our live stream services—and the lay led Zoom services on a large screen. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, having all the service leaders and participants appear larger will make it easier on the eyes and provide more impact than a smaller screen can provide.Second, for many of us, our phones and computers are work tools. Our Sages understood that we need to distinguish between “chulin” and “kodshin”—betwen everyday matters and periods of holiness. If you are savvy about these sorts of things, and don’t have a smart tv, you can still stream the services from your computer to a tv using screen mirroring, or connecting your device to the tv with an HDMI cable. This may sound unfamiliar to many of us, which is why it is important to being figuring out these things now so that the High Holidays won’t be stress-filled.
  3. Consider having a Zoom watching party with those you normally attend services. What this means is that one friend will set up a Zoom meeting with those you want to watch with. That person will then use the Zoom Share Screen function to broadcast the synagogue’s livestreamed services. In this way, you can still use Zoom to kibbitz and talk with each other while participating in services.
  4. Get dressed up as you would if you were coming to shul. For many of us, the quarantine ahd been a wonderful time to be more informal and to wear more comfortable clothes. That has certainly been the case for me. At the same time, part of what makes the holidays different is the way we approach them. I am not sure you need to get more dressed up than you normally did when attending the High Holiday, but it will benefit you to take a similar degree of preparation.
  5. We will have staff available both leading up to the holidays and on the holidays to help you if you are having technological difficulties connecting. This past week, some Zoom users couldn’t connect, as the platfrom struggled to adjust to the flux of users as school began in many parts of the country. The reason why I suggested attending services over the next few weeks is that the more familiar you become ahead of time, the less frustration you will have during the chagim. I anticipate that there will be higher “call volume” for people on the holidays themselves. Staff will work hard to get to everyone, but you can do your part by taking initiative now.

How To Use This Season: Some Spiritual Suggestions

  1. Acknowledge that this High Holiday season won’t be like any other year in memory. Write down the things you will miss, and note the disappointments you have. It’s important to face those disappointments head on. You could even try to figure out what is behind the disappointment.
  2. Figure out what is most valuable to you about the holidays in general. Is it being with family and seeing friends? Do you have a particular seat and “seat neighbors” who you look forward to being by each year? (Consider calling them ahead of time this year, and wishing them a Shanah Tovah). Do you find sitting in shul for long stretches, even if this is not what you normally do throughout the year, creates a space to reflect on your life? Do you get value out of discussing (or arguing about) your rabbis’ sermons with friends and family after services? If so, there are still ways you can do so. Or perhaps you love when the entire kehilla sings together.
  3. Decide how you want to use these Days of Awe. Recall how you have used the holidays and services in the past. Consider which part of that you can still do in our mostly on-line format, and also imagine new ways to use this brand new way of gathering. One of the best ways to make peace with Coronavirus is to employ your creativity in this regard. What can you do the same? What will you need to do differently?
  4. Develop a framework for using the services and in-person experiences that our professional staff and clergy have developed. Really pay attention to our High Holiday Booklet this year. Thumb through it with the people you normally attend with and discuss the components.

While there will be other opportunities, let me close by wishing you a sweet and healthy new year. The world has changed in so many ways. What has not changed in the strength and dedication of our 151 year old kehillah.

Shanah tovah u’metukah,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk will resume…

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

Torah Sparks Commentary This Week