02 October 2020
We made it through the first-ever “remote” Yom Kippur. Some, like my daughter in Colorado, joined socially-distanced in-person services, but most of us observed the day at home, online.
I will be honest, the experience left me conflicted. On the one hand, our community’s ingenuity was on full display. Synagogues across Greater Washington did a tremendous job translating High Holiday programming—including services, text studies, interviews, meditations, and so on—to the virtual sphere. I have spoken to many people who found comfort and meaning in the offerings and who were able to share the experience with friends and family who would not otherwise have been able to join. This is something of which we can be really proud. In the strangest and most challenging of years, we not only kept our traditions, but did so with grace, agility, and true creativity.
On the other hand, I can’t help but miss what we had to forgo. For me, the most moving part of Yom Kippur is standing and praying in the presence of others as part of a community. I missed the feeling of finding my place in a packed synagogue and hearing the prayers sung together at full volume. It was not only my own prayers but those of others that entered my soul and gave the holiday meaning. This year, doing without that sensory experience felt like a loss.
I think, however, that the key to navigating the future of Jewish life during a pandemic is not necessarily to solve this conflict but to honor it. We can celebrate our ability to adapt and evolve while also acknowledging and even grieving the things we cannot do right now.
We are capable of holding this tension, and our community will be stronger for it. There is no question that we must continue learning and experimenting. And, where possible, we should make those successful adaptations permanent. This is a time of incredible innovation and we should take advantage of the opportunity to integrate our new approaches, insights, and partnerships into whatever comes next, from ritual experiences to ideas for volunteering, from opportunities for identity building to new ways of connecting with one another.
And yet, even as we push the envelope of what Jewish life can look like, I hope we stay attuned to that instructional feeling of loss. It is not something to just get through or ignore, but rather a tool we can use to guide our decisions in the future. It is that feeling which helps flag for us what is truly important and what we should be sure to revive once it is safe to do so.
By paying close attention to what brings us fulfillment, be it inventive or time-tested, we will emerge from this period with the best of both worlds. Now is a time for leaning into transformation while, simultaneously, holding fast to that which has sustained the Jewish people through the ages.
Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sukkot Sameach, and please wish me luck in getting my sukkah put up in time,
P.S.: In the spirit of continued innovation, learning, and growth, I invite you to join me for this year’s Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, taking place virtually October 25-27. Registration is free and now open at www.generalassembly.org. Together, we’ll have the opportunity to reflect on the past seven months and celebrate the ways in which Federation leaders, donors, professionals, and partners have stepped up to support our community. I look forward to seeing you there.