Growing up in a small Midwestern town, my connection to the surrounding Jewish community was tenuous. It was a long drive to the nearest synagogue and none of the other kids my age lived near me. So, when I look back on my childhood, much of my Jewish life centers and unfolds around the High Holy Days.
It wasn’t just a spiritual experience; it was a deeply and profoundly communal experience. Sitting near the back, my head bent over the machzor (prayerbook), I’d mouth along with the words I heard echoed by the rabbi. These were the moments when I felt a part of a larger people, listening to their voices, knowing that to achieve redemption—redemption for myself, for this community, for the world—we all had to work together and realize we’re all interconnected and responsible for our world.
Back in March, I was in Trader Joe’s, my cart already full of wine and cookies, when I got the call. Riverway Project events that gathered people in person were no longer possible. Everything would be online. My first thoughts were of getting all my items back on the shelves, but when I had time to think, to breathe, I wondered what our community would look like, and I desperately hoped everything would “return to normal” for the High Holy Days.
Community has defied definitions these past few months. Despite being unable to meet in person, we’ve crafted virtual gathering spaces, sacred spaces, where I still feel that spark of belonging.
However, my hope that we’d be able to safely gather in person for the Days of Awe proved to be naive. The High Holy Days will not be the days of my childhood. This year, there will be no High Holy Day hugs or handshakes, no in-person gatherings of our whole community. But the important things are still there—the people. The people will still be present, in a different format, but together no less. These months have been a practice in letting go: of people, plans, expectations. But it has also allowed me to realize all the blessings that surround me; this community is one of them.
We know a lot of people have felt adrift, suffering from loss and isolation, seeking stronger connections to others, seeking spiritual guidance as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach. Which is why we’re introducing the squad model to our High Holy Days. This squad will focus on building relationships and deepening participants’ connections to each other and Judaism.
Bring your voice and your creativity to our community! There are so many ways to get involved: from being on our social media team to planning Sukkot events to welcoming new Riverway members. Apply here! The application closes Aug. 28. Email Emily Rogal (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions.
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