I just spent two hours with my synagogue’s High Holiday guide which arrived in the mail last week. Two. Hours. Longer than any Pottery Barn catalog I’ve memorized, and I’ve cuddled up with many over the years. I smelled the pages like I would a well-loved, dog-eared Nancy Drew novel in my Grandma’s musty attic. I marveled at the thickness of it, the glossiness of each welcoming page. I had spent my whole life receiving this guide from my beloved shul, until last year….when it didn’t come. It couldn’t come. I didn’t realize how much I missed the choose-your-own-adventure of High Holidays, until my 2020 adventure was mostly chosen for me…in the form of a buffet of Zoom links.
I’ve always believed that G-d and faith can be found everywhere, not just at shul. My spiritual life isn’t about buildings, it’s about belief. This belief served me quite well these past 18 months, as the doors to my beloved synagogue remained closed to protect the health and safety of its congregants.
I’ve found my Judaism in the most unlikely and boring of places – the way my favorite grocery bagger asks about my family every week and questions why I’m only buying four avocados instead of my usual five. I find G-d in the same wooded trail I’ve walked every morning for the last 16 years. Judaism meets me in the delicious first bite of the warm pumpkin chocolate chip muffin my daughter perfected in the pandemic. If you don’t think muffins are spiritual, you’ve never tasted these. As Zoom fatigued as I am, I am grateful that doors of a minyan opened to me on those days when I needed more community, prayer and introspection than a muffin could provide.
I know that it’s about beliefs, not buildings. So why was I so ecstatic to see this year’s High Holiday guide return complete with in-person offerings? Because it’s not a return to normal. It’s better than it’s ever been.
It’s choose-your-own-adventure on steroids. High Holiday services that meet all of us exactly where we are at and a full understanding that it could change at a moment’s notice. We are used to that change now. As my grandpa used to say, “I don’t buy green bananas.” He would have done well in a pandemic.
For me, this year’s choices are a delicious minestrone soup of comfort, warmth and connection. I’m counting the days until my favorite hallway passing of all time, the two-way traffic between Alef and Bet services, and while crowds may be slimmer, you bet your N95 mask I won’t miss it.
Hearing a live choir? I’ve memorized the alto part of Sim Shalom and can’t wait for the chills I’ll get when I hear the perfect harmony once again. I close my eyes and pretend I’m actually good enough to be in the choir.
Wait…there’s an outdoor young family service? With a tent and a view of the lake? In early September when the leaves will begin changing and crisp fall air gently hits the loose pages of our siddur? Oh, I’m going to that one…even if I have to borrow a small child or two to look legitimate.
Then I see my beloved childhood Rabbi is leading Zoom discussions in smaller, more intimate group settings. My laptop is powered up for that and my high heels will be retired for that portion. Every time I hear his wise and soothing storytelling voice, I’m 11 again, braiding my dad’s tallis and hoping to find an old gummy fruit chew in the pew shelf in front of me.
My teenagers will disappear to the youth lounge for discussion or to the coat closet to play hooky, but I don’t really care which option they choose. My own Jewish identity took shape in a synagogue coat closet as well. Never underestimate the connective power of hide and seek in a sea of trench coats.
The shofar will sound right in front of me, or through a radio station in my car or a speaker on my computer. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the T’kiyah G’dolah is followed by the communal sounds of “hrumph, humph, humph” which translates into Kol Hakavod!
Somebody in my house may have a cold or a sniffle, and my grand plans may change and take me back to yoga pants and my living room couch. Remember when a cold could simply be a cold? Delta may see our ambitious brochure and laugh from above with a surge of new case counts. The heavens might open and release weather that makes the outdoor tent plan a pipe dream. It’s okay. I’ve never been more convinced that our community and our Judaism is alive and well, along with our love for the High Holidays. I have a High Holiday mailer with color-coded post-it notes to prove it.
Whether you celebrate on your couch, in the sanctuary, under a tent or hiding in a coat closet, may you have a meaningful and healthy new year.