Pandemic Forces Another Holiday to Go Virtual: Observing Rosh Hashanah from a Distance

Photo courtesy of Naomi Blesofsky

For the upcoming Rosh Hashanah celebration, Chabad Beth Meir HaCohen, a local Jewish community center in Yorba Linda, is delivering care packages to the community to help them to celebrate the sacred occasion properly.

Celebrating occasions and cultural events have been tricky this year as social distancing guidelines are still in full effect and gathering with people outside your inner circle is strongly discouraged.

But that doesn’t stop many cultural events, like Rosh Hashanah which starts tomorrow evening, from finding a way to accommodate these safety protocols so that people can still celebrate together.

Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish high holy days, celebrates the Jewish new year. It will be celebrated from the beginning of the evening on Sept. 18 to the end of the evening on Sept. 20. The high holy days culminate with the celebration of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, landing on Sept. 27- 28 this year.

Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration, but also a very serious time for the Jewish community to repent and ask for forgiveness. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also known as the Ten Days of Awe, are filled with prayer, repentance, reflection on past mistakes and making amends.

If you are new to the area and are looking for local resources to help you observe this time, here is a list of organizations that will give you options to celebrate in a safe fashion.

Even though you are unable to congregate in person to usher in the new year, here are a few alternative options to help you celebrate the season:

Blow the Shofar at Home: One of the first priorities of the High Holidays is hearing the shofar (a ram’s horn that is blown like a trumpet), typically at a daytime Rosh Hashanah service. In exchange for a community gathering to hear the horn, people could instead attend a local outdoor horn-blowing event, call up a local Chabad rabbi to their house or learn how to blow the horn themselves.

Chabad Beth Meir HaCohen, a local Jewish community center in Yorba Linda, is working with OC Jewish community members to help supply them with everything they may need to celebrate at home, including a shofar, not letting the pandemic stop them from the sacred tradition.

“We will be blowing the shofar, which is Jewish tradition. There never was a time in Jewish history where Jews did not do that unless they were in wartime, so we are going to be doing it,” said Naomi Blesofsky, who participates in planning activities and holidays for the community, and is also the rebbetzin (wife of the rabbi) of Levi Blesofsky, who is a rabbi at the synagogue.

Cooking: No holiday is complete without its traditional foods and Rosh Hashanah is especially great for satisfying a sweet tooth. Spend your time at home cooking up more extravagant foods for the holiday this year while incorporating key Rosh Hashanah ingredients such as raisin-studded round challah loaves and honey.

The Chabad Beth Meir HaCohen has delivered hundreds of care packages to those in the Jewish community, as it plans to continue to deliver all throughout north Orange County. These packages were delivered to people’s homes by volunteers and the packages included DIY books for the holidays as well as honey cake and challah bread.

“Judaism is a very home centered religion, so the home is very important and the home needs to reflect the holiday. So we need to make sure that all those elements of the holiday are set out to inspire us to celebrate it correctly,” Naomi Blesofsky said.

Call or Video Chat with Loved Ones: The sooner you start on your customary holiday calls, the sooner you will make it through the list. It is tradition to extend good wishes to friends and family, but it will be especially meaningful during this pandemic. People can feel lonely having to celebrate in isolation, so pick up the phone and make someone’s holiday better.

Attend Service Online: Just because you’ll be physically alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Many local synagogues and Jewish centers are offering online services for Rosh Hashanah and the days leading up to it.

“We have a very rich heritage. It’s special and it’s been going on for thousands of years and the Jewish people have been through a lot of difficult times. This is a time that we have to be even more connected,” Naomi Blesofsky said. “So we’re not minimizing (Rosh Hashanah), we’re maximizing it. We’re delivering home packages and connecting to people on their terms.”

Kristina Garcia is an intern for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at [email protected].

Kim Pham is an intern for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at [email protected].