Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Sept. 18, but the Jewish New Year will look different this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we may not be able to assemble and celebrate the new year as we usually do. Yet, there are still ways to keep the spirit of the holiday and its associated traditions alive while celebrating safely. Whether it is a smaller gathering than usual, a socially distanced celebration with your community, or giving back through a Jewish organization, there are still ways to honor the holiday.
Atlanta-area caterer Annette Marcus has accrued a sizeable clientele through her 35 years operating Annette Marcus Catering. As someone specializing in in-home celebrations, family milestones, bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah celebrations, wedding celebrations, and corporate office parties, she is full of ideas for helping people celebrate the holiday in person or virtually this year.
“People don’t want to let go of things they have enjoyed in the past,” says Marcus. “The Passover Seder is an orderly story you repeat year after year, and you have this ritual. On Rosh Hashana, it’s a family-based meal. You go to synagogue, and you have a family-based meal. That is what it’s all about, and can still occur more safely.”
If you choose an in-person celebration, and adhere to public health officials' recommendations for outdoor, socially distanced gatherings limited to small groups, Marcus suggests making accommodations for the heat as well as safety. Skip hot matzo ball soup and do riffs on traditional Rosh Hashana staples. Instead of sliced brisket and kugel, tuck brisket into individual rolls. As far as serving, Marcus suggests designating one person to plate food and another to pass it. “This way, you don’t have 12 people hovering over the food,” she says.
Even families that live in the same city are choosing not to be together in person this holiday, but still want to connect. “If your children can’t be with you, put brisket, kugel and apple cake in small containers, take it to your family, and then everybody could Zoom and eat together,” suggests Marcus. “Sending parcels of food to people makes people so happy.”
Relatives near and far can also bake challah, honey cake, or some other family favorite together online. “My sister is a great challah baker. She has gotten on Zoom with her grandchildren that are in Maine and Chicago. If the parents can handle it, that’s a tradition that you can pass on with your own family," Marcus says, noting the value in grandchildren learning these traditions and feeling ownership with what is served on the table. “We can get along with not seeing our friends for a little while, but when the generations can’t get together and pass something down or a word of wisdom, that’s really where the sadness comes from, to me.”
Perhaps, you are the kind of family who doesn’t let a holiday pass without giving back. Many Atlanta Jewish organizations, including Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta, are offering services and ideas for celebrating the holiday despite the pandemic. JF&CS Atlanta is coordinating with area rabbis to help older housebound adults participate in Rosh Hashanah rituals, such as the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn. The shofar is traditionally blown during synagogue services, but this year, rabbis will be visiting people at their homes and blowing the shofar outdoors.
If you’d like to do something for someone who may need a little more than just a piece of honey cake this new year, volunteer for JF&CS Atlanta’s One Good Deed friendly visitor program, which calls 150-plus seniors every week. Children can send Rosh Hashana greeting cards to older adults who may feel isolated due to the pandemic, or you can donate to the JF&CS Atlanta Kosher food pantry to ensure someone doesn’t go hungry this holiday season.
The heart of this holiday is togetherness. With people yearning for connection, there are still ways to do that safely. And there are still things to celebrate.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta. 4549 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Atlanta. 770-677-9429, JFCSatl.org.