Dear rabbis, and education directors, and cantors, and synagogue pandemic response teams, and synagogue presidents, and High Holiday committees, and office staff:
Many Jews thought these High Holidays would open the gates to normalcy. Last year, many congregations opted to host Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services exclusively online or in small outdoor groups. For many Jewish people, it was the first time in their lives that they didn’t attend services.
Months ago, when High Holiday Committees met to plan for the High Holiday services of 5782, COVID-19 rates were the lowest we had seen in months. Vaccination rates were increasing. Mask mandates ended for the vaccinated. So synagogue staff and volunteers put in many hours planning for High Holiday services that looked very much like services during the beforetime.
The delta variant, high transmission and hospitalization rates, however, have forced rabbis, committees, staff and congregants to reassess and reevaluate what High Holiday services will look like.
Currently in the U.S, lists of venues visited by people who’ve gotten sick show “religious services” among the top three most likely places for them to have visited in the two weeks prior.
I would like our rabbis, staff and volunteers to know we see you. We understand your confusion and struggle because we, too, have felt that. We don’t fault your exhaustion because we feel it, too. We feel it in our bones, our hearts, our souls, our homes and our families. We know you are trying your best to meet our spiritual needs and keep us safe, and we appreciate that more than we can ever express.
During the pandemic, you have led and attended funeral services for long-term members who have died of COVID-19. In Judaism, the needs of the survivors are focused on people physically coming together to support them. That has often not been possible during the pandemic. In these situations, some people have brushed halachah aside, some have brushed the mourners aside and some have consulted and researched to find ways to best halachically meet the mourners’ needs. We know you’re suffering alongside the mourners through the typical grief and the added isolation, confusion and fear.
With the High Holidays approaching, you have had to evaluate and then reevaluate what they will look like. Not only have you had to deal with the disappointment of your hopes being dashed, but you’ve then had to go back and create a whole new plan of action for what those services, speeches and honors will look like.
You are our leaders, teachers and guides. We recognize that, and many of us have called on you often in those roles during this pandemic.
Some congregants may forget you are also parents, grandparents, children, siblings, friends and so much more. In shul (and via Zoom), you lead us in services, help us plan b’nei mitzvah, answer our existential questions, and lead various groups. At the end of the day, you go home, where you tend to ailing relatives, hug overwhelmed children, create care packages for far-away friends dealing with illness, care for your own health and do all the other necessary tasks for surviving in the time of COVID-19.
We value our Jewish traditions, including the High Holidays. We also recognize your humanity, and we care about you as individuals, not just as a synagogue representative. While you, like us, struggle through with your friends and family, you are also in the unique position of fighting for our traditions, our synagogues, our families and our lives.
Hyphen Parent is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories, the self-proclaimed Jewish Molly Weasley, hobbit-sized and best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.