How To Feel Connected To The High Holidays When You Can’t (or don’t want to) Go To Synagogue
Two years ago, the day of Erev Rosh HaShanah (the first night of Rosh HaShanah), I spent the day unlike any of my rabbinical school classmates. While they were busy preparing for leading services and giving sermons at synagogues around the country, I was busy in a very different way- in labor. Instead of hearing the shofar blast that evening for Rosh HaShanah, we heard our daughter’s first cry in the delivery room. Though it may not have been the traditional New Year sound, it certainly ushered in the 5775 and our new lives as parents.
This cry also marked a shift in the way I have been able to celebrate Jewish holidays. The year Jo was born was the first time I can remember not attending High Holiday services, a Rosh HaShanah meal, or a Yom Kippur Break the Fast. And ever since her arrival almost two years ago, I continue to find it really challenging to observe Jewishly the way that I used to before she was born. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find ways to still feel connected to Jewish holidays, even when I might not be observing them the way that I used to. Understanding that observing the holidays becomes more challenging as a parent, below is a list of a few ideas for connecting to the holidays that I have tried myself. Please share your ideas in the comments below. We are a community and part of that means helping each other feel connected.
Hear the shofar
Though we associate the blast of the shofar with Rosh HaShanah and the final blast on Yom Kippur, the shofar is actually sounded every day following morning minyan (morning services) during the month of Elul, the Hebrew month leading up to Rosh HaShanah. If sitting through an entire High Holiday service sounds unrealistic for your life as a parent or if the exact date of the Holidays is a problem, consider attending a morning minyan service- they will be far shorter and you never have to worry about tickets to attend. Though I didn’t hear the shofar on either Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur the year Jo was born, it was really comforting knowing I heard it at morning minyan just a few days before her birth. Here are just a few synagogues who have daily morning minyan in the Denver area:
If late at night is a better time for you to be away from your family (I know I always feel better leaving Jo with a babysitter after she has already gone to bed), then you might want to consider attending Leil Slichot services. Slichot is held on the Saturday night at least one week before Rosh HaShanah (this year on September 24). The service marks the real beginning of the High Holiday period and includes penitential prayers as well as tunes from the High Holidays. Often many synagogues offer some type of study or reflection on High Holiday themes.
Live stream services
As a parent, sometimes it is really hard to get out of my house for any number of reasons. The challenges of leaving home are both isolating and often make doing things like attending holiday services impossible. For those who feel comfortable using technology on Jewish holidays, there is a wonderful solution! Many synagogues live stream their services. I spoke with a mom who told me how helpful it was for her to be able to listen to the High Holiday liturgy in the background while she nursed her new baby. An added bonus, you get to check out some synagogues outside of the Denver/Boulder area:
Some of my happiest childhood memories are being in the kitchen with my mom preparing food for different Jewish holidays. It’s no real surprise then that one of the ways I feel most connected to Jewish holidays is through food. Since we were being induced, we packed in our hospital bag grape juice and a round challah, the type of bread typically eaten on Rosh HaShanah to commemorate the cyclical nature of the year. Despite having these foods to help the hospital feel more like Rosh HaShanah, I missed having a traditional Rosh HaShanah meal. When we got out of the hospital, my brother-in-law prepared us a Rosh HaShanah feast, even though it was days after the holiday. Being able to enjoy recipes that I associate with Rosh HaShanah, like apples and honey, tzimis, kugel, and brisket, helped me feel the connection to the New Year.
Fasting on Yom Kippur has always been a painful experience for me that only a few times has felt spiritually meaningful. It was surprising then when it came to having just had a baby a week before Yom Kippur, and knowing that I would not be fasting, how hard it was for me not to fast on Yom Kippur. So much of the holiday felt tied to fasting that I wondered how it would feel like Yom Kippur for me without the struggle of not fasting. Fasting is one of a handful of bodily pleasures that are prohibited on Yom Kippur, the others include not bathing, anointing (think putting on lotion or perfume), wearing leather shoes, and having sex. Luckily, as a new mom I was not participating in any of these actions anyway. One way that I did feel like I could connect with the holiday though was through the custom of wearing white clothing. It is traditional to wear white on Yom Kippur to represent ministering angels, who according to Jewish tradition wear white, and as a reminder of our mortality, since Jews are buried in white shrouds. I actually didn’t have any white clothing I could fit into as a new mom but I remember cherishing the few moments I was able to stand wearing my great-grandfather’s giant white tallit.
My hope is that this list is just a beginning. Please post below ways that you have found to connect with the High Holidays that fit with your life as a parent.
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