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What to Do?

Rabbi Jana

I have been thinking of writing a blog for a long time - yet recently I have avoided writing here. I am not proud of that. I believe this is an easy way to keep people informed. Unfortunately, lately not only have I been ridiculously busy (and it is going to keep getting busier and more stressful until after the Holy Days - and I mean: Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah), but I have been stressed about decisions about the Holy Days. These are always times when we gather together. Even people who never come to services come to services for the Holy Days. What happens when they can't or shouldn't?

I don't know how many of my congregants have NEVER missed High Holy Day services. I have not. EVER. I wonder how many of my congregants are not disappointed that they do not have to come - since they will not be "seen." I also wonder how many of my congregants will be disappointed not to be able to see everyone - and everything that the Holy Days mean to them. 

How do I compensate for that? 

This is obviously related to the struggle about how to make Shabbat services meaningful each week. On a Friday night we were having 40-70 people attend every week. Then it went down to 20-50. On Rosh HaShanah evening we get at least 240 every year.  For Yom Kippur Evening (Kol Nidre) last year we had 180. I spend a lot of time wondering why so many people come for those particular services. 

This year we might be able to "safely" have a fraction of those numbers in the sanctuary at one time. I struggled with who do we tell that they cannot come? High risk folks? Those are mostly the older congregants who have NEVER missed High Holy Days before.  It hurts my heart to have to tell them not to come - especially if we were letting others come. Should we prevent families with young children from coming to services? How do we ensure our future, if we tell them not to come - especially if we were letting others come.

Someone recently said to me that if we don't let people come to synagogue this year, they may never come back. That reminds me of what a wise Rabbi said to me after he had lost his entire family in the Shoah (Holocaust). He said that anyone who lost their faith because of the Shoah, did not really have faith to begin with. If you want to be with someone, and they can't make it for this occasion - even if it is an important occasion - if we care about them, we usually do not dismiss them altogether after that. 

I am hoping that people will appreciate the efforts that are going into the creative ways we are working on to give everyone a meaningful Yom Tov experience. Some people want to hear the magnificent melodies sung by our choir... we plan to have that (the choir will be "virtual," but should still be wonderful.) Some people want to hear all of the inspiring words that we have been reading the past few decades - we will have that (we will, as usual, also add other readings. Of course, one of the challenges is: how do we give everyone everything that has inspired them all of these years, but shorten the service to an amount of time that may be tolerable for sitting in front of the screen. 

I like to think that one of the advantages we have this year is that instead of you coming to me, I get to come to you. You do not have to sit in the stackable chairs, or behind someone who is too tall to let you see the whole bimah. You get to pick your comfiest chair, turn that into a sacred space, and welcome the service to you. I really hope that you appreciate that. 

Sat, November 28 2020 12 Kislev 5781