SOMERVILLE – What do the High Holidays look like during a pandemic?
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, when Jewish organizations and synagogues in Greater Boston, and across the state and country have had to shutter their buildings and have not joined together in person, they have been models of the adage, adversity-sparks-creativity. Jewish communal leaders have stepped up with remote services for Shabbat and holidays as well as scores of virtual events, from the arts to music and more.
At Temple B’nai Brith in Somerville, that creative spirit came wrapped in a gift bag for the High Holidays that included the handiwork of the congregation’s Rabbi Eliana Jacobowitz, who was once a fashion design student in her native Israel, and Liz Perlman, the congregation’s president, the proprietor of Costume Works and one of the Boston area’s leading costume designers.
Along with the familiar items – a mahzor, the special prayer book for the holidays, a mini-jar of honey, Shabbat candles and a yahrzeit candle for Yom Kippur – came an unexpected surprise: two face masks with holiday themed fabric, handmade by Jacobowitz and Perlman. Since the start of the pandemic, both women have sewn thousands of face masks donated to hospitals and charities.
The masks – one’s a fun print with jars of honey and another has a nature motif – are an example of hiddur mitzvah, the Jewish concept of beautifying Jewish rituals. There is also a poem, “Home Tov,” written by member Karin Blum.
Some 150 bags have been distributed through a contactless pickup from a window at the rear of the historic synagogue, and delivered to the homes of others. The whole production was overseen by TBB Executive Director Lisa Gregerman.
The masks are intended for members to wear outdoors for the observance of Tashlich, the traditional casting off of sins by tossing something small into a moving body of water. This year, with statewide and city restrictions on the numbers of people who can gather in person, TBB has had to cancel its traditional Tashlich service at the city’s Blessing of the Bay boat house on the Mystic River. Instead, it has posted a self-guided Tashlich video on its website that includes TBB leader Seth Weiss blowing the shofar at the river.