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Temple Israel of Scranton

Temple Israel of Scranton

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How to prepare for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur this year

Posted on September 4, 2020

From the Rabbi’s Desk:  
How to prepare for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur this year
Rabbi Miriam T. Spitzer
15 Elul 5780

On Pesah, we ask: “How is this night different from all other nights?”  This Rosh HaShanah we do not have to ask “How is this High Holy Day experience different from all other High Holy Day experiences?”   It is going to be different. But as you may have heard me say before and as you may very well hear me say again, let us make this situation work for us rather than against us as much as we possibly can. Here are some thoughts on how to prepare for a High Holy Day season like no other. 

Prepare your Space
Before Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we typically prepare the sanctuary by changing the Torah covers to white, by covering the bimah space in white, by removing the shabbat siddurim and replacing them with High Holy Day machzorim.  Prepare your space at home as well. Set aside a comfortable place to participate in Live Stream services. Have comfortable seating, preferably at some distance from the screen.  Remove distractions from the area; perhaps add some artwork or something else that will set the mood for you.  Have your machzorim in hand; we are going to be using Harlow and will be distributing them on September 13th. Feel free to get as many as you have participants.  And make sure your tech is ready so there will be no last minute disappointments. 

Prepare your Person
Dress up! Plan to wear your fancy Rosh HaShanah outfit or your feel-good shabbat clothes. Or wear a kittel, a white robe, like you might see the rabbi and cantor wear. Being dressed for Rosh HaShanah will help you set the mood and lend an air of seriousness. If you usually wear a kippah and tallit, make sure they are at hand. If you do not usually wear a kippah and tallit, consider wearing a kippah and tallit this year. Wearing prayer garb will make the prayer experience more intense and help you get into it. Finally, get ready to sing — as much and as loudly as you wish, or as quietly and as individually as you wish. You will be heard — by God, not by the congregation, and there is no COVID danger in singing in your own home. 

Prepare the foods
Someone recently told me that she baked half a dozen honey cakes already last week and will be mailing them to her distant family. If you usually make honey cake, or brisket, or sweet tzimmis, or round hallah, make it this year too, even though you are not having the numbers you usually have. Make it for yourself. Take a look at the list of edible blessings you will be getting in the mail shortly and get as many of those as you can. You can and should come to our communal Zoom Rosh HaShanah opening program with or without the food items for the blessings, but it will be more meaningful and more fun if you have them. And while you are at it, see what blessing you might want to add to our list and get that one ready too. There will be time at the end for people to share their own creative edible blessings. See the Messenger and the website for details. 

Prepare your soul
Start by expressing gratitude to those around you. Express appreciation. It goes a long way. Give some thought over the next two weeks and beyond about what the meaning of the holidays is.  One theme is forgiveness. But, as I recently saw posted, even God can’t forgive you for lying to your mom. Apologize, ask for forgiveness. And when others ask you for forgiveness, forgive them. Come to the Conservative Movement Wide Zoom Selichot program on Saturday night September 12 after Shabbat (see the website and the bulletin for details).  Consider writing a personal prayer in advance of the holidays for you to read and pray on Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur. All of this will help enrich the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur experiences. 

Know as well that we are not planning a several-hour marathon of virtual services. The services will be spread out throughout the days and will allow for breaks to move around, to reflect and consider, and, on Rosh HaShanah, to eat. 

High Holy Days are also about communal togetherness. Make sure to take advantage of our social opportunities. As I mentioned above, we will be beginning Rosh HaShanah with congregational edible blessings on Zoom — apples and honey and more. I am very excited about it and look forward to seeing you there.  Tashlich and shofar blowing will be live — socially distanced — on Sunday afternoon, the second day of Rosh HaShanah. In addition, we will have neighborhood shofar blastings during the week between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur — watch the Messenger, the weekly bulletin, and the website for details. Finally, we will come together on Zoom for minhah, including yizkor, mourners’ kaddish, and my yizkor sermon, on the Sunday afternoon before Yom Kippur at 3:30.  

It is not going to be the same as every other year. And we have new opportunities to find new meanings and new possibilities. Wishing you a shanah tovah u’metukah, a sweet new year, a year of good health, a year of expanding potential. 
B’vrakhah, Rabbi Spitzer 
Coming next week: How to prepare for Sukkot this year.