Blessings for Spending the Holidays Apart from Community

person in red hoodie walking through field of tall wheat looking out to sunset in the distance

Cheers to a new year, and to … well, whatever this is. The days of Elul are flying by with the same, hot alacrity that they did last year, when we were making promises like “Next year, I’ll be in shul” or “Next Rosh Hashanah I’ll host that big dinner with all of my friends.” Now, we’re here, a little older, maybe a little wiser, still the same type of lonely. Though we simultaneously understand that one cannot truly be Jewish alone, there’s the feeling that many of us have been left behind. The immunocompromised person who still cannot go to public gatherings or indoor celebrations, the new convert still looking for a community to call home, the young professional who just moved to that new city for that new job; this is the time of year where it is easy to be disheartened by how little things have changed since 5782 began. That glowing meal with friends seems just as out of reach as ever, and the prospect of another holiday season spent on Zoom is equally depressing. We look at the four walls we’ve occupied so much time in lately and wonder if this is another year for making promises.

The message of Elul and the Yamim Nora’im, that now is the time to reflect and repent and celebrate, because now is when the King walks in the field and you may not get another chance, puts a lot of us in a panic. We feel like we’re wasting time, wasting a whole season, if we don’t put our all into the holidays or do what we consider traditional. I think, however, there is one thing about the High Holidays that can free us from that mindset of wasted time, and it is that there will always be a “next year.” A central part of our liturgy encourages us to look to the future, to what we will do with our gift of life and when we will meet together again. There will always be a next year, and it may not look like or arrive in any of the ways we expect, but it will come, and there’s no need to do everything we’ve longed for all at once.

This year, we can make that long phone call home, prepare that special piece of fish or that round challah in a beautiful dinner for one or two, and sit down to our own small seder to say the Shehekheyanu, that making it here is its own celebration:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who gave us life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this point.

And may those of us who spend the holidays a little lonely or apart from the community say:

Blessed are you, Shekhinah, source of life, who has ever been with me, and encouraged me to seek connection both human and divine.

And may we all say:

Blessed are you, El Shaddai, creator of dreams, by whose help we make our plans and wishes come to pass.

Amen.

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