In the month of Tishrei, Jewish people celebrate the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. During any ordinary year, Jews spend these holidays at their local synagogues and eat festive meals with families and friends. Breaking the fast and playing games inside the Sukkah with extended family is usually a long-anticipated norm. However, this year, the Coronavirus has made the usual manner of celebration nearly impossible. Some people spent the holidays at Shul with a restricted number of atendees, while others that are not Orthodox watched services from the comfort of their homes via Zoom.
Especially in Miami, it’s dangerous to congregate in large groups. The Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets emitted by coughing and even breathing. Many people who have the virus are asymptomatic, so they don’t show any signs of having Covid and therefore may not take the proper precautions. Over the summer, Miami became the epicenter of the virus and was forced to take certain precautions. To ensure the safety of their members, synonguages have restricted the number of people that can physically attend and used other approaches to guarantee that everyone had the opportunity to participate. Others took matters into their own hands and celebrated the holidays in a way best suited to their conditions.
Every Scheck Hillel student spent the holidays in their own unique way. Jessica Hanz ‘23 attended synagogue and mentions that, “It was strange being at shul while socially distancing and wearing a mask.” She continues by commenting, “We got to spend more time with family, which was a first since there had been so many guests in previous years.” Other families took more unconventional approaches. Joelle Kirsch, Class of 2023, describes her experience as the following. “This year, because of the pandemic, my family and I were unable to go to synagogue. We decided to create our own shul in our backyard for our friends and family.” She goes on to say, “I felt very grateful that we were able to host and have that experience. I was able to pray and hear the Shofar clearly, which made the holiday extremely special, and it was definitely one I will never forget.”
Fortunately, today’s society is technologically advanced, allowing people who are not Orthodox or shomer shabbat to participate from farther distances. Many synagogues live streamed their services to reach people that could not attend in person. Sophomore Tamar Kameo commented, “I was able to watch the services while sitting on my couch at home in my comfortable clothes. It was so strange to watch services without actually being there, but I’m glad I was still able to participate in my own way.”
Moreover, the holiday of Sukkot is usually spent eating in the Sukka with a lot of family and friends. However, Covid has impacted travel plans and the gathering of many people. Talya Schechter ‘23 claims, “This year, everyone that was going to be in the Sukka together had to be tested beforehand. Luckily, we all received negative tests and were able to celebrate together, but it was weird having to take tests just to be with my family.” She adds, “It was also annoying that I couldn’t be with my family from Atlanta, since they didn’t want to risk exposing themselves to the virus on a plane.” These precautions, testing and avoiding travel, were common among many families during the holidays.
Historically, Jewish people have had to hide their celebrations and spirituality. Similar to this pandemic, the ancestors of the Jewish people were not able to practice in their usual manner. For example, during the Babylonian Exile, Jews had to maintain their culture through small celebrations and small services. While present circumstances are completely different, people still have to follow similar precautions. The past of the Jews has required them to adapt to maintain thier culture countless times, and once again, they have proven to be resilient in this trying time. Even though they cannot be together physically, thier Jewish spirits have only grown stronger during this pandemic.
In essence, although everyone is living in a troublesome time, Jews have continued to maintain thier culture and sense of community by attending synagogue in person, creating thier own at home, and watching services virtually. The Coronavirus has hindered people’s original plans and made seeing distant family members difficult, but these experiences have been one of a kind and an unforgettable way to celebrate the holidays.