I spent months hiding inside my home after Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency. During that time, the Talmudic description of evil spirits resonated with me. It was certainly how I felt, surrounded by invisible threats just outside my door. Since I am a children's author, I channeled these fears into a picture book featuring a supernatural spirit.
As I boarded the plane to Israel in the summer of 2002 for my first year of rabbinical school at HUC in Jerusalem, my mother said, "Please, just don't meet an Israeli." As soon as the plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport, I knew that I was home. A few months later, I met that Israeli. From our first conversation, he understood that I was studying to be a rabbi, and I understood that he wanted to live only in Israel.
I am vegan because I am Jewish. Everything that led me to a vegan practice came from my childhood where I kept kosher, learned by asking thoughtful questions, and practiced daily rituals like hand washing and reciting brachot that brought intention to aspects of daily life.
As we look out from the pulpit, we know there are good reasons that some faces that were familiar before March 2020 are now missing. We have embraced technology at every opportunity. The quality of our livestreaming worship, even in smaller synagogues, is excellent. Many congregants have grown accustomed to praying from the comfort of their couch.
The month before the High Holidays, Elul, is a time of spiritual preparation and t'shuvah. This year, as we conclude a Shmita, or sabbatical year, after focusing on taking time to pause, rest and reflect, I feel a sense of urgency and the need to act.
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur worship services are among the most-attended services of the year. That can be a challenge when those worship experiences are not the easiest entry points to Judaism, especially compared to the joyousness of Simchat Torah, the food and rituals of Hanukkah, or the sensory stimulation of Passover.
After two years of teaching remotely and watching far too many movies and television series on Netflix on the same computer screen I use to interact with these students, I wonder if I feel less connected to these "virtual" students than the hundreds of young people I taught in person over the past decades.
As part of the URJ Reflection Project, a new set of offerings and experiences for the High Holidays in a time of social distance, we’ve also developed three short essays that allow you to go deeper into the essence of Jewish wisdom that grounds these rituals.