Normally when it is eight weeks before Rosh Hashanah, our congregation’s process of preparing would be unfolding in familiar ways. The music for our services would have been determined; our choir will have begun rehearsing; and I would have a pretty clear idea of what each service would look like based on previous years.
But with the pandemic, there is no normal. As expressed in the letter sent to the congregation a couple of weeks ago, we will not be holding High Holy Days services at Temple. This compels me to reconsider everything that we have customarily done for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Without a doubt, I am very sad that we are unable to be together in person for the High Holy Days. I will miss seeing folks and embracing one another. I will yearn to hear our cantorial soloist, choir, and pianist. I will long for the palpable sense of community we experience as we journey through the High Holy Day season.
But these upcoming High Holy Days offer an unprecedented opportunity for imagination and creativity. How do we identify the core themes of the Days of Awe? What prayers are essential to include? What music is irreplaceable? How do we create services to convey meaning and hope to everyone who participates?
I do not have answers to these questions at this time. But I welcome the necessity of addressing these challenges.
Rav Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, stated that the task is “to make the old, new; and the new, holy.” In this day and age, this remains our responsibility.