Thoughts on the Second High Holidays During COVID

By Adina Bernstein

Every religion has its own formal way of asking for forgiveness of our sins. In Judaism, the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are two of the most important days of the Jewish calendar. During that time, we ask both G-d and our fellow mortals to exonerate us from our negative actions during the previous year.

Rakoon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the second year in which Covid-19 has drastically changed the way the High Holidays are celebrated. In the before times, the shul (like many shuls across the world) which my family attends would have a full house. In addition to the regulars, there would be extended families, adult children who have left the nest, and other congregants who normally spend their weekends doing something else. When I walked through those doors, it was not uncommon to run into a former high school classmate or someone who was a child the last time I saw them.

Other than those three days, I am not a regular shul-goer. I have not attended regular Shabbat services since I was about 17. I keep semi-kosher and I am proud of my faith, but I would not categorize myself as religious. That being said, I still go to services every fall because it is important to me.

For the last two years, the synagogue that my family is a member of offered two options. The first was to attend via Zoom. The second was to go in person with the expectation that the traditional service was to be amended due to the current circumstances. In 2020, the number of participants in the rooms was limited and the seats were set up in small groups instead of the normal auditorium-style rows. This year, anyone who wanted to attend physically needed to be fully vaccinated and provide proof of the shot(s).

I could have taken part via Zoom. It would have been the easy way out. I wouldn’t have had to get dressed up or even fully participate. I could have had it on in the background while I did something else. But it was important to be there in person. Those days are not just an opportunity to reconnect with my beliefs, but to take time to disconnect from the daily grind. When we are busy, it’s easy to get caught up on the to-do list and push aside the tough lessons we have had to learn during the previous year. Those days provide the necessary time to take a mental list of where I went wrong and how I can make myself better in the year ahead.

What I like about the High Holidays is that it is a time to recognize that we are all human and therefore imperfect. Shakespeare once said that “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” It takes courage to admit that we are fallible. But in doing so, we become better people and a little closer to who we would like to be. Especially since March of 2020, when for many of us, Covid-19 put a lot of things into perspective.

Adina Bernstein is a New York City born and bred writer, who like many writers, has a day job to pay the bills. She has been published in, How to be a Redhead, and The Mighty, among other publications. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at Writergurlny. You can read more of her work on her blog and on her portfolio

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COVID-19 Observer

The Observer uses human stories, medical news, trends and culture to tell the story of COVID in America. The Observer is the news page of the website