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Cantor Lauren Phillips Fogelman

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Close up of hands holding a loaf of challah against a striped shirt

When our second son, Evan Ariel, was born on February 26, I expected that we would be more or less homebound for the weeks that followed. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the rest of the world would be joining us in our isolation.

As challenging as these days of quarantine have been, I take comfort in the many ways this strange time of separation have enabled us – however ironically – to come together. Here are a few of the “blessings of separation” I’ve experienced in the age of COVID-19.

1. We’ve worshiped online with our local Jewish community and beyond.

Although...

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A bowl of charoset, a kiddush cup, and fresh flowers on the Passover seder table

It may seem like a shande (scandal), but not all of my childhood Passover seders featured matzah ball soup and gefilte fish.

When we visited my father’s parents, of blessed memory, our seders began with these stereotypical Passover appetizers. The gefilte fish, mixed with carrots and onions, was served cold while the matzah balls were the perfect consistency – not too hard, not too soft. I imagine that my great-great grandparents had similar seder meals in the old country of Russia, Hungary, and the Ukraine, where my family has roots.

At the seders hosted by my mother’s...

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Five shiny silver dollars on a blue background

Pidyon haben (Redemption of the Firstborn) is an unusual Jewish ritual that commemorates the birth of a family's firstborn child, when that baby is a son. Originally, firstborn sons were inducted into God's service because they had been spared from the Egyptian plague of the firstborn.

However, when the Jews – firstborns included – built the Golden Calf, the firstborns forfeited their status as servants of God. The priesthood was transferred to the only tribe that did not participate in the construction of the Golden Calf: the Levites, and particularly to the descendants of Aaron...

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Perhaps the most familiar of all the melodies we hear each High Holiday season is Kol Nidre – the introductory prayer that is recited before sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur. The text itself is not really a prayer, but rather a legal formula written in Aramaic. With these words, we declare that all vows and oaths that we intend to make in the coming year are to be considered null and void.

The custom of reciting Kol Nidre three times is quite old and is explained in the 9th-century siddur, Machzor Vitry:

“The first time [the hazzan] must utter it very softy, like one who...

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Fans of “Seinfeld” may recall an exchange between Jerry and Elaine in which they discuss the appropriate timeline for delivering new year greetings. “I once got Happy New Year'd in March … it’s pathetic,” griped Jerry.

The Jewish calendar has a natural marker for when it’s appropriate to start wishing friends and loved ones a happy New Year. The Jewish month that precedes the Jewish New Year is called Elul, and the first day of Elul, Rosh Chodesh Elul, is the official beginning of the High Holiday season.

During the month of Elul, there are many traditions that help us...

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