In Celebration of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur at Home

Plus, 10 ways to observe the High Holidays from wherever you may be
September 16, 2020Micaela Hellman-Tincher

Like many, I'm mourning the chance to actually "go" to High Holiday services at my synagogue this year. I'm sad I won't see old friends, feel the emotion of being surrounded by hundreds of community members, or be able to greet the clergy in person.

But I've also had the joy of observing Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur fully at home, and so I know this year will be wonderfully meaningful.

When I was little – maybe from when I was 3 until I was 11 – my family observed Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services almost entirely at home. My grandfather had medical issues that prevented him from going to his beloved shulShulA synagogue. , so we did the entire service in the backyard of my grandparents' house.

There are real delights in observing the yom tovimYom Tovיוֹם טוֹב"Good Day;" the term, often pronounced as yuntiff (Yiddish) has come to mean "holiday;" "Good Yuntiff" is often used a holiday greeting.  at home. My earliest memories of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur involve never wearing shoes, doing the "Aleinu Gadol" on the lawn, and my nana leaving partway through the service to check on the delicious food cooking inside. 

In later years, many of my family members (including me) started going to synagogue for the High Holidays, but we'd still gather afterwards (this year it'll be over Zoom!) to discuss the sermons we'd heard in the morning and to do more of the service with the rest of the family.

We still always observe N'ilahN'ilahנְעִילָהLiterally, “locking.” The service that concludes Yom Kippur. The name alludes to the metaphorical locking of the heavenly gates at the end of the day. , the last service of Yom Kippur, in a backyard together – looking up at the sky for three stars to signify that we can soon break our fast (this year we will Zoom together and look at our individual skies). 

There's so much we've lost this year, but I am comforted knowing that there is a lot of beauty in these high, holy days at home. Wishing you some barefooted prayer, FaceTime family discussions of the High Holiday sermons, or some other "only at home" delights as we celebrate and observe from home this year. 


Check out ReformJudaism.org's resources for home observance of the High Holidays this year:

  1. Find virtual services and other High Holidays programming hosted by synagogues across North America.
  2. Learn about Rosh HaShanah customs, including those for home observance. 
  3. Create a sanctuary-style space in your home to help you actualize a communal atmosphere while enhancing your home holiday experience.
  4. Spend some time reading through and completing The URJ Reflection Project, meaningful new way to reflect on the year we're leaving behind and welcome the High Holidays.
  5. On Erev Rosh HaShanah, recite the festival candle blessing and Kiddush (blessing over wine), as well as HaMotzi (blessing over the challahchallahחַלָּהA braided egg bread eaten on Shabbat and festivals. Today challah comes in many flavors and varieties, including chocolate chip, gluten free, and vegan. Plural: challot. ).
  6. Speaking of challah, make your own round challah and other traditional Rosh HaShanah foods.
  7. Enjoy apples dipped in honey, an Ashkenazi tradition that symbolizes the hope for sweetness and blessings in the year ahead, and/or host a Rosh HaShanah seder in the Sephardic tradition.
  8. Wish loved ones a l'shanah tovah by sending them free holiday ecards.
  9. Listen to music associated with and representative of the High Holidays by checking out these curated Spotify playlists
  10. Perform TashlichTashlichתַּשְׁלִיךְ"Casting away;" A traditional ceremony held during the Yamim Nora-im (Days of Awe), usually on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, in which individuals symbolically “cast away” their sins or wrongdoings from the past year by throwing breadcrumbs into a flowing body of water. , a ceremony generally conducted on the first day of Rosh HaShanah in which we symbolically cast our sins into a moving body of water. Watch this video to learn more about Tashlich.

For additional ideas, see "How to Get into the High Holidays State of Mind." What will you do to observe the High Holidays during this unique time? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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