Whether you’re hoping for an in-person holiday or gearing up for a second year of virtual services, this year’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come with unique challenges — and opportunities. Although the COVID-19 Delta variant means some synagogues’ plans are still up in the air, it’s not too early to start thinking about how to make this year’s High Holidays as meaningful as possible.
Here are some tips to get you started.
COVID-proof your shofar
Prevent the spread of respiratory droplets that might carry the coronavirus by placing a mask over the wide end of your shofar before you blow it. “Of course it should be tight,” Israeli immunologist and long-time shofar blower Cyrille Cohen told the Times of Israel. Cohen also recommended that shofar blowers stand further than six feet away from congregants.
“I would say that since there are no definitive studies on shofars,” he said, “a few more meters would be advised.”
Tell your teachers about missing class
For students without the days off, the High Holidays can mean missing classes. Looking at your school’s religious exemption policy or the language in these letter templates can help you start drafting an effective message to teachers as you prepare to make up for that missed time.
College students can email professors about their planned absence at the beginning of the year, then remind them after the last class before the holiday. Parents of younger students can call or email teachers. High schoolers might ask individual teachers for extensions while a parent emails the attendance office. Ultimately, no matter where you are in your education, the best way to ask for time off is by explaining the holiday’s significance and clearly expressing your needs.
Get the most out of virtual services
After a year and a half of Zoom calls, followed for many by a post-vaccination taste of in-person life, it can feel even harder this year than last to make virtual services spiritually fulfilling.
Rabbi Nathan Weiner of Congregation Beth Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue in Marlton, N.J., suggests picking a spot in your home to be your sanctuary. Choose a place where you relax, like a living room; stay away from areas associated with stress, like a home office. Then, arrange the space to be as calm and reflective as possible. Light scented candles or ask your kids to make artwork to decorate. See more tips about having a meaningful virtual service here.
Or prepare for a family holiday
If Rosh Hashanah marks your first in-person family holiday since the beginning of the pandemic, it might be hard to adjust. Although in-person celebrations are exciting, everyone’s comfort levels are different. Have a conversation beforehand about whether the people you’ll be celebrating with are vaccinated, and ask how they feel about wearing masks. Ask for permission before going in for a hug. If you’d rather keep some distance, a simple “I’m so happy to see you, but I’m not hugging people yet” makes the choice more about your boundaries and less about your reaction to seeing someone else.
Study the art of apologizing
During the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it’s traditional to apologize to the people you’ve hurt throughout the year. Before picking up the phone or sending a message, refresh yourself on the steps needed to make teshuva. Practice your apology in your head, or write it out before saying it. Then, make good.
Write your own al-cheits
While the viddui, or confession, is a central part of the Yom Kippur service, it’s easy to repeat the Hebrew in your prayer book without deep reflection. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, set time aside to write your own version of the prayer.
Start with the beginning of the line —“Al cheit shechatanu,” — “For the sin we committed” — and finish with a personal confession. Bring that sheet of paper to services and read your confessions back to yourself. These examples from Forward readers might help get you started.
Hydrate like Bryan Cranston
A key part of fasting for Yom Kippur is making sure that you’re hydrated. One tip: Take lessons from actor Bryan Cranston’s secret to sustaining tears through multiple takes of crying scenes on “Breaking Bad.” His practice, he told the New Yorker, was to start drinking water days in advance. He learned the technique working on soap operas, and you can use it in the days leading up to your fast.
Find comfortable, non-leather shoes
On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, it’s traditional to wear non-leather shoes. In the name of sustainability, if you don’t already have a pair available, ask a friend with your shoe size for something to borrow instead of starting with Amazon. If that doesn’t work, try looking for a pair of canvas sneakers at a local thrift store. If all else fails, especially if you’re particularly averse to Crocs, this guide has you covered.
Help your round challah keep its shape
Try baking your round challah in a cake pan or springform pan to maintain its shape as it rises and expands. There’s no risk of your dough uncoiling in the oven, and keeping it perfectly round will make it easier to cut into (or pull apart) at the dinner table.
Make sure to line the pan with a piece of parchment paper or generously grease it — or both! — to prevent the dough from sticking.
Break the fast with this make-ahead Moroccan soup
If you want to branch out from your typical menu for breaking the Yom Kippur fast, try making this Moroccan harira soup. This traditional Sephardic dish made of lentils, onions, tomatoes and rice is seasoned with cumin, chile, lemon juice and herbs. Make Meme Suissa’s recipe before Yom Kippur and leave it in the fridge or freezer.
And feel free to experiment. The recipe can easily be converted to be vegan, scaled up to serve a crowd, or pared down to serve a small family. Whatever adjustment you prefer, all you’ll need to do once the fast is done is reheat it.
High Holiday hacks to welcome in 5782