Rosh Hashanah in the time of pandemic


Every year, I take some time for reflection right about now. We are, after all, in the month of Elul, which leads us to the High Holy Days.  Reflection and introspection are part of what many of us do at this time of year.

As Jews living in a secular world, we have two opportunities for this reflection yearly – now and before the secular new year. I welcome both opportunities to look back and take stock.

This year, we have plenty to reflect on. Last year at this time, we were planning for family dinners, days spent in the synagogue with fellow congregants and a new year full of promise. We were back to school, back to activities, back to routines.

But life is different now. Every activity, from school attendance to shopping to entertainment, involves careful planning and thought.

Now, because of the pandemic, this is a year like no other. Most of us will not be able to experience our usual High Holy Days. There will be no praying in large crowded groups. Holiday dinners are going to be a lot smaller, or virtual, for most of us. Rituals previously observed as a community might look different and be celebrated on a much smaller scale.

But several congregations are taking their shofars on the road so Jews all over the state can listen to them in person even if they aren’t worshipping together. And if a shofar doesn’t sound in your neighborhood, you might be able to catch its blasts online. There are even YouTube videos that teach how to blow your own shofar!

Many worship services will be available via Zoom or YouTube. Only a few of Rhode Island’s synagogues are allowing in-person worship. And when they do, the community will be small, masked and socially distanced, and you will have to register in advance.

Some may look at all this with sadness. But, upon reflection, I’m taking a more positive view. We are resilient and we are accommodating. And by continuing to observe all the health advice and recommendations from medical experts, we are watching out for ourselves, our families and our neighbors. It is a mitzvah that we are helping keep those around us safe. We are practicing pikuach nefesh, preservation of life, the most basic of our principles.

Furthermore, some good has emerged from the pandemic. For example, Jewish Rhode Island’s community calendar, at, has become a robust online tool for learning about upcoming events and making plans to attend – even virtually. After all, community members need to know that they can participate from home.

This month, you will see almost a full page of things to do in our community. And while only a couple of the listings are in person, there really is something for everyone.

Of course, all this looks quite different from what we did last September. But the point is that if we’re interested in services, an event or a learning opportunity, it’s still available in Rhode Island. We encourage all organizations and synagogues to use our community listings. 

No, it’s not the normal High Holy Days, but I’ve concluded that there is still plenty to celebrate – and plenty of ways to celebrate, perhaps more than ever.

We at Jewish Rhode Island are looking forward to the new year, and we hope it’s a happy and especially sweet one for you, our readers!

Shanah tovah!