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During the High Holy Days, we must ‘choose life’

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As Jews gather this Friday evening, we will be welcoming the Sabbath, as well as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5781. During the upcoming High Holy Days — the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — we will engage in prayer and reflect on the year that has passed. Without a doubt, the intention we bring to our prayers will be influenced by the unprecedented global health crisis of these past seven months.

Covid-19 affected all of us, no matter our faith tradition. Issues of health, loss of loved ones, a sense of isolation, financial difficulties, job loss, childcare and the impact on our children are just some of the issues we struggled with during the pandemic. We all grieved the loss of our normal lives. Now, having begun to re-emerge and return to places of work and school, we are yearning for a sense of routine. At the same time, we realize adjusting to a new sense of “normal” comes with its own types of stress. In addition, we know that some of us are still grieving the deaths of loved ones and other losses.

These thoughts and experiences will temper our Rosh Hashanah celebrations, but we will celebrate nonetheless. One of Judaism’s basic tenets is “to choose life.” When we look back on the year that’s past, we won’t forget the difficulties, but we will choose to focus on and offer gratitude for the blessings that emerged during this difficult time. Gratitude for the blessing of community will be very much a part of our prayers as we welcome the New Year.

We will express our gratitude for the first responders in our community who kept us safe and offer thanks for those on the front lines who allowed the most vulnerable among us to stay home, such as postal workers, home health care aides and delivery people. We will thank God for the kindnesses of friends and neighbors who helped us by going to grocery and drug stores in our stead. Holiness was evident in every act of kindness and every gesture of assistance. There is blessing in our new understanding of what it means to sacrifice for the greater good and to pull together to make it through a difficult time. We have a new appreciation for the old saying gam zeh ya’avor, “this too shall pass.”

Judaism values life over all else, so many, many Jewish religious communities have turned to online platforms for worship services and gatherings to mark important life events. At Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, we too have been praying together, yet physically apart, since March. Although our High Holy Day worship will also be conducted on virtual platforms, we find comfort in the idea of all of us coming together at the same moment in time to offer our words of praise and gratitude.

Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known in Hebrew as the Yamim Noraim, “the Days of Awe.” As we gather in prayer, we will acknowledge both the “awesomeness” of our communal existence and of God’s gifts of strength, resiliency and hope.

May 5781 be a year of health and well being for all of us.

Bellush is the spiritual leader of Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook