Rabbi Dr. Benji Levy
What can we do together on Rosh Hashanah?
As parents and children, citizens and Jews, we need to consider how we will adapt to our surroundings. We need to focus on what we can control in how we celebrate these auspicious days.
The High Holy Days are typified by large family feasts, special communal activities and big crowds at synagogue. This year, across the globe, these holy days will not be celebrated the same way. In fact, the government of Israel has just confirmed that it will go into lockdown over the High Holy Day period.
As parents and children, citizens and Jews, we need to consider how we will adapt to our surroundings. We need to focus on what we can control in how we celebrate these auspicious days. We need to consider, not just how we will celebrate by ourselves, but what we can do together, to hold onto our sense of community.
Recommended by my friends in Sydney, Australia, came up with a concept that I believe we should take global. It is called “Together – Never Apart,” and the idea is simple. On Sunday, September 27 (the day before Yom Kippur), reach out to someone you have not spoken to in a while or someone you know who would appreciate being reached out to, as we catalyze communal connection. Whether a text, email, Zoom or phone call, reach out to say “I’m thinking of you,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry” or anything that can help strengthen our relationships.
The next day, on Yom Kippur, many won’t be able to attend a Yizkor (memorial) service in the synagogue. Let’s unite for a collective, cross-communal moment of reflection at 12 noon on Yom Kippur Day. Whether you are in a synagogue or home alone, pause together in spiritual unity and personal reflection on someone who was important to you but is no longer with us.
This program was launched in Sydney by Rabbi Yossi Friedman, with over 5,000 mailings sent for Rosh Hashanah to strengthen their community over this period. But this initiative doesn’t have to stop down under. Each community can shape it however it suits it. This is what can enhance this unique year – the knowledge that Jews around the world are connecting through the same traditions through new ideas. This past Passover, we experienced something similar, making it truly a different night from all other nights.
My wife and I, like so many others throughout Israel and the world, were alone with our four children (but all are wise, none wicked) at our Passover Seder. Our kids had told us that at 8:30 p.m. the whole Jewish people were coming outside to sing “Ma Nishtana” together, so at 8:28 p.m., we stepped outside. We stood there quietly, and then my daughter started singing. We joined in and so did an old man on his balcony alone, a young family around the corner, and more and more voices from around the neighborhood. A chorus filled the streets of Jerusalem, and later we found out, they filled the entire country as people stepped out to sing together.
An initiative, started by a few people who had said, “We cannot choose the situation in which we find ourselves, but we can choose how to react to it,” had brought thousands of people celebrating Passover in this small intimate way, together as a nation.
This initiative, along with Together – Never Apart, serves to remind us that even though we are alone on our holidays, we are part of something bigger. Across time and space, the pandemic has reminded us of so many important values in so many ways – unique in their simplicity. We hear countless stories and countless experiences of people joining together and stepping up to help when we are most physically apart. And now we need to collect our thoughts to make this time count.
Through my daily conversations around Israel and with communities around the world, in the lead-up to the High Holy Days, there is no doubt that the times to come will continue to be different. But some things will stay the same.
These days are about introspection and rejuvenation. As we start this new year in new ways, as individuals and as a community, let us remember how special we truly are. Take the time to reach out to someone before Yom Kippur and reflect on the day itself as we remind each other that we are together – never apart.
As published on The Jerusalem Post: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/what-can-we-do-together-on-rosh-hashanah-642727