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7 Ideas for Celebrating Rosh Hashanah This Year

7 Ideas for Celebrating Rosh Hashanah This Year

Whether you're able to gather with family this year or not, ring in the Jewish New Year in a memorable way with one of these celebrations.


Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sept. 18, and many Jews are struggling to figure out how to observe the holiday safely. The threat of COVID-19 now makes indoor synagogue services, traveling to see family, and intimate gatherings risky. So what is the best way to mark the holiday in a family-friendly and meaningful way? Fortunately, many synagogues in the New York area are offering alternatives to traditional programming, so we came up with some ideas for how to safely celebrate Rosh Hashanah close to home.

Listen to the Shofar

One of the most important components of the annual Rosh Hashanah ceremony is the blowing of the shofar. Because this is usually performed during an indoor service, ask your rabbi about any outdoor shofar-soundings near you—maybe in a park or other open space. Many temples will also be hosting shofar-blowing livestreams and prerecorded videos online.

(One recorded blast at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York uses the shofar from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Tune in to hear it on Rosh Hashanah.) Another way to incorporate the shofar sound into your home program is to use the Moishe House Shofar App, called “Shofar Sho-good” on your phone.

If you’re really brave and determined, you can order a shofar online and be your own shofar-blower this Rosh Hashanah. Or tell the kids it’s an art project and make your own crafty version.

Celebrate with Family at Home

Gather your family around the computer or TV and tune into an online service. Some are streamed live from empty synagogues while others have been partially pre-recorded. Most are free and available on the synagogue’s website or Facebook page. (See list of local Eastern Standard Timed services below.) This is a rare and valuable opportunity to glimpse a different ceremony than the one you normally attend. And don’t worry—many synagogues will shorten Rosh Hashanah programs this year because so many people are screen-fatigued.

For kids who may need a little more inspiration, read them a story about the history of the holiday, like Rosh Hashanah is Coming, Sammy Spider’s First Rosh Hashanah, Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story and New Year at the Pier.

Host an Outdoor Rosh Hashanah Celebration

Since Rosh Hashanah is a holiday usually observed with friends and family, gather a group together for a socially distanced outdoor service. One person can lead the ceremony using an online prayer-book—there are many free texts available online. For example, this list of common prayers can be printed out to share. Or if possible, set up a large screen outdoors and follow a streamed service.

Create a DIY Tashlich Ceremony

Rosh Hashanah involves many symbolic actions, one of the most important is Tashlich, or the symbolic casting off of sins, which is often ritualized by tossing bread into the ocean. Create your own Tashlich program that would be meaningful to your family. For example, have a philosophical conversation about how to make yourself, and the world, a better place. Family members can do this together on a Zoom call or alone before coming together for a discussion over Zoom.



Have a Rosh Hashanah Zoom with Friends and Family

Share the holiday with distanced family and friends by logging onto the same livestream while you Zoom. (Alternatively, you can Zoom with family and friends while someone leads a home service.) Create the right mood: use pictures of family and Jewish memorabilia as the background in your space; cover up electronics or other items that might distract. Get dressed up in clothes that evoke festivity or have special meaning.

Gather for a Symbolic Rosh Hashanah Feast

If you’re skipping the service but still want to commemorate the holiday, invite friends and family over for a meal—either around a table or at a socially distanced picnic. Or, eat together on a Zoom call.

Choose symbolic foods like apples and honey (which are supposed to lead to a sweet year). Or take advantage of the sourdough craze—making a loaf will mean you are “rolling in dough” next year. Actress Mayam Bialik and her young sons, along with members of The Maccabeats, created this cute video which explains the Rosh Hashanah culinary traditions.

Start the meal with a Kiddush over wine or grape juice, and don’t forget to eat round challah instead of braided loaves: this symbolizes the circle of life and the beginning of the Jewish year. Finally, toast to the new year, a time when hopefully all worldly evil will be banished—especially plagues.

Stream Rosh Hashanah Service

Central Synagogue (Reform)

This 2,600-member congregation is one of the largest synagogues in North America. The synagogue streams its High Holidays services free on its website and on its Facebook page.

Congregation Beth Adam (Humanistic)

Congregation Beth Adam is in Cincinnati, Ohio, and approaches Judaism from a Humanistic perspective. Led by Rabbi Robert B. Barr, founding rabbi.

Park Avenue Synagogue (Conservative)

This 1,650-family Manhattan congregation’s vision includes practicing “a Judaism filled with love, literacy, reverence, compassion, and joy” and striving “to make our ancient tradition compelling and welcoming to contemporary Jewry and to serve as a light unto our fellow Jews and the nations.” Led by Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove.

Temple Emanu-El (Reform)

Founded in 1845, Emanu-El was New York City’s first Reform congregation. Led by Rabbi Joshua Davidson.

Temple Sholom (Reform)

This Cincinnati synagogue says it welcomes “all people: seekers, interfaith families, and those in search of a spiritual home.”

 

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Shana Liebman

Author:

Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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