Ruthie and Liza Feinstein picking apples Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Sharing the High Holidays in difficult times

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Sharing the High Holidays in difficult times

Ruthie and Liza Feinstein picking apples Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Why is this year different from all other years? (Well, maybe not totally different from last year, when the holidays were also celebrated in, let us say, unusual ways.)

For me, this year marked the first time that I shared Rosh Hashanah services with my daughter-in-law and granddaughters, who had evacuated from hurricane-drenched New Orleans. Their house was basically OK, and my son opted to stay on ­– making repairs, checking on neighbors’ empty houses, helping friends and strangers. He is the kind of person who loves a good emergency. And his time in the Peace Corps in Togo acclimated him to lots of heat and little electricity.

But Jana and the girls had no interest in prolonging the conjoined miseries of plague, flood, and no set date for a return to school, so they flew up to Boston. Like every other family, our normal round of visits has been upended, and I was thrilled to be able to welcome them here. I got to spend more time with the girls, and they got to spend some quality fall time in New England.

The girls were incredibly excited about the prospect of going apple picking; something that doesn’t happen in the South, and something that we totally take for granted.

We went shopping for Ruthie’s upcoming bat mitzvah. We got in some boating and swimming. We saw old friends and family. We made apple cake and challah for Rosh Hashanah. I always make mine in the shape of a bird, the idea being that the bird takes your sins and flies away with them. I tend to be a fairly relaxed and very amateur bread maker; I didn’t think it would be a problem to extend the last rising of the dough. We were on a busy schedule; fitting in swimming and Ruthie’s FaceTime Hebrew lesson … so in the end, the bird turned into a blob. Oh well, it still tasted fine.

We tuned into our Gloucester synagogue Zoom services, and then checked in on their services from New Orleans, although their rabbi had evacuated to Dallas, their hazzan was in Los Angeles, and many of their fellow congregants had scattered. The descriptions of the shofar calls moving from brokenness to wholeness struck me like, well, a shofar blast. I was touched by the ways we have worked to confirm and strengthen our communities, not just in the short run, but now also looking farther ahead.

I have found that, during COVID, emotions have been heightened, and this year’s taking stock and hoping for something better struck me harder than usual. The “Who shall live and who shall die … Who shall perish by water and who by fire” part of the service didn’t seem like an exaggeration or an abstraction.

We cannot take these words for granted, if we ever could. It felt good to hold the girls close, and to help each other in large ways and small, as together we contemplate a future filled with fear, courage, innovation, and hope.

Miriam Weinstein writes from Gloucester.

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