It would be an understatement to say that IJC’s High Holy Day services 5781 were exceptional. What was different? What was the same? What did we lose? What did we gain? What was your highlight? What did you miss most? I missed the sense of occasion that comes with gathering in the synagogue, surrounded by friends – many dressed for the occasion – and the social interaction (often a time when we get to catch up after a long-time-no-see), but the sense of being connected was perhaps stronger than ever before. At one point it felt like all our isolated bubbles glued together on Zoom suddenly popped to form a single bubble suspended in the ‘cloud’.
I also missed holding books, our special High Holy Day machzorim which we only use once a year - then carefully box until we need them again in 12 months’ time. However, our new machzor Mishkan Ha’Nefesh (a very beautiful set of books we will hopefully be able to hold for real next year thanks to some very generous donations) - and its elegant online variant - made it easy for everyone to follow and participate, without fiddling with reading slips or wondering which page we were on.
This is my third year coordinating and leading High Holy Day services at IJC and I felt better prepared, both spiritually and logistically, and better supported than ever. Marty, Anneke and I dedicated many hours to tailoring each service, choosing from the many options offered by the machzor, setting the appropriate tone, learning new music and returning to familiar melodies that make these days so unique. Anu, Jesse, Tereza, and Alexandre worked hard to create a visual and audio experience that can only be described as truly professional.
As Covid-19 drove us out of the synagogue and into our virtual shul, we discovered also that we could open our virtual doors wider than before to include many friends from abroad – some of them very familiar faces – as well as people new to our community. And once inside our virtual shul, the sense of connectedness was palpable and real. Zoom didn’t create our online connectedness; we did and we can do it again in the months ahead.
My personal thanks go to Anu for coordinating the logistics, to Ilana for helping us to prepare spiritually, to Marty for bringing his warmth and music from distant Athens, to Anneke for co-leading services and leyning Torah so beautifully, to Ruth and Jesse K. for blowing the shofar, to Alex L. for preparing and leading the children’s Mincha service, to all those who read an inspiring text, to Miriam and Valerie for reading our Yizkor list (and coping with its challenges), and to Mark for providing some welcome and delicious break-fast food.
That brings me to my highlight, the Yizkor service. I was very moved by those who shared a word or two about the person they were remembering. For a few seconds, these names on a list became very real and very present. Let’s make that happen again next year when we gather in Forest.
Brian Doyle-Du Breuil
IJC Rabbinical Intern