As it turned out, the High Holy Days this year were, for my husband and me, wonderful.
My husband Zvi and I prayed at home. Our Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob, did not have Zoom services.
To accommodate those of us “praying in place,” our rabbis prepared guidelines for abridged services that included all the essential prayers as well as suggestions of additional meaningful and illuminating readings. With the prayer guide from our shul, our own machzorim (prayer books) and familiarity with the services, my husband and I planned to pray at home.
Zvi and I treasure being in our synagogue on the High Holy Days when our congregation gathers with devotion and passion, and we feel our shared, as well as individual, Jewish destiny. How would the two of us at home manage without the congregational and rabbinic context to guide and enrich us? How might we use our isolation to intensify our experience? Was there a plus side to what seemed to be a pretty strong negative?
Finally, we realized the advantage of the unique ambiance in which we prayed. We were home in our own little shul, but better. Instead of davening together in one room, we could each settle in a favorite spot in our home.
We dressed in synagogue attire, with Zvi in his white kittle. I prayed in our bright living room; Zvi davened in his study. I wanted to be immersed in light; Zvi wanted to nest among his books. We took our machzorim into our chosen spaces and, unled by chazzan, rabbis and other service leaders, read at our own pace, stopping at will to think or follow a footnote or commentary.
I stuck with the shorter essential services at my own tempo and had the luxury of dwelling on poems and commentary in English, many of these selections for the first time. Zvi followed the complete unabridged versions of the services and spent many hours reading from relevant books in his home Judaica library. Every so often we took breaks to share thoughts, questions, and on the days of Rosh Hashanah, to share meals.
Time passed quickly for us. We heard the outdoor communal shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, but nothing was organized for the blast closing Yom Kippur. After we davened the Neilah service, Zvi took his shofar from the shelf, and, for the two of us, delivered one long, beautiful blast.