This year, families are adding some creativity into their New Year observances.
Teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity) constitute the three central themes of the High Holidays. This year, families especially may need to add a new theme — creativity — into their New Year observances.
Temples and conservative synagogues will mostly hold Zoom services because the ongoing implications of COVID prevent them from hosting indoor gatherings. However, some parents worry that worshiping in this way will not be as meaningful for their children as attending services.
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Amy Brody, a West Bloomfield mom of three girls ages 3, 5 and 7, started contacting a few friends and proposed the idea of holding their own outdoor service. While she understands and supports the notion that congregational services have to be online, she doesn’t want her children’s High Holiday experience to be in front of a screen. The Brodys are members of Temple Israel and Shaarey Zedek and often go to services at both places.
“I want them to participate in communal prayer, and I know that with my girls that won’t happen on a screen.”
Many congregations and religious organizations are modifying and expanding holiday offerings and providing programming beyond the internet to address such concerns. For example, small outdoor Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, tashlich services and shofar services are among the options available, and many are geared toward families.
To make it easier for families looking for a way to pray without being in front of a screen, Rabbi Simcha Tolwin of Aish HaTorah launched a national initiative that helps families host a service. Called PopUp Shul (popupshul.com), the idea is to provide all the materials needed for a Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service, including online training before the holidays.
Participants can choose from one of four services; a traditional one, a family service, a meditative one, and one designed for families with teens and college kids, which includes tools for engaging those who are reluctant to participate.
“There are so many great ways to mark these holidays, but parents are going to have to dial in and learn something new,” said Rebecca Starr, a community educator, Hartman Institute staff member and wife of Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s rabbi, Aaron Starr.
“It’s going to be a significant responsibility because it’s more than just attending services. I think people are going to do some creative things in terms of fun family mitzvah projects and how they’ll approach prayer in a way that’s meaningful to them.”
Starr went on to say that “parents need to be OK with whatever they decided to do because these holidays are about being joyful and celebratory, not about missing something or feeling stressed out.”
Erika Bocknek, a Farmington Hills mom of three young kids and a Temple Israel member, agrees.
“We will need to be creative about creating a sense of community and connection to our temple since that’s what will be missing,” she said. “But, I know that our temple is also thinking about that, and there will be ways to keep families connected.”
The Bockneks plan to start a new holiday tradition of sending New Year’s cards to the family and friends whom they will not see this year because of the current pandemic.
One novel approach to the holiday is participating in a Rosh Hashanah seder. At least two congregations, Beth Ahm and B’nai Moshe, are hosting them.
“We are offering a box of blessings with many Rosh Hashanah items in it for a Zoom Rosh Hashanah seder with Rabbi Kantor and his family,” said Steve Fine, executive director of Congregation B’nai Moshe. “There are several different foods, each of which is connected to a specific blessing for the new year and often based on puns for that food. We’ll create some new and creative blessings like putting raisins in celery and then saying, ‘May it be your will, O Lord our God, that we all have a raise in salary.’”
Rachel Lopatin and her husband, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, have four children between the ages of 13 and 19. One way they are encouraging their teens to get excited about this year is by asking them to reach out and connect with others, wishing old friends and acquaintances a happy New Year.
Their family will be attending outdoor services at Rabbi Lopatin’s congregation, Kehillat Etz Chayim in Huntington Woods. The services will be shorter and social distancing practices put in place. Because of COVID, there will be less socializing than usual.
“If you can go to synagogue, that’s ideal,” Rabbi Lopatin said. “But if your synagogue is on Zoom and if you would use technology on the holidays, then go to synagogue on Zoom. Dress up and attend services on a shared device.
“Your presence means a lot to those who are putting together the service. A lot of rabbis are being much more deliberate in what they are planning for this year.”
The Jewish News reached out to congregations and organizations to see what options they will be offering for families during the High Holidays. Below are links from those who responded.