The Holy Holy Days are just around the corner. It is a time of feeling spiritual, reflective, and for some of us, completely overwhelmed. Those of us unaffiliated with a synagogue can find ourselves scrambling at the last minute to find a suitable congregation. Even if we are already affiliated, we can become overwhelmed by visitors, meal planning, and issues such as conflicting traditions within the family.
Here are a few steps you can take to make the holidays a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable.
• If you’re not yet affiliated with a congregation, this could be a good time to test the waters. Ask yourself what type of congregation would be comfortable for you at this stage in your life. For instance, if you grew up attending a Conservative congregation, do those traditions resonate with you now? Is this a good time to try something new?
• Consider various aspects of the service. Do you appreciate music in your service? Do you enjoy hearing Hebrew, or do you like having things explained in English, or both? Do you prefer a congregation that is more lay-led or less? Each congregation will have its own unique spin on all of these elements. Before joining a congregation, keep in mind that the essence of a synagogue goes beyond the High Holy Day service, so it’s also a good idea to attend services and events throughout the year before you make your decision.
• Prepare for it emotionally and spiritually. The days leading up to Rosh Hashana — this year coinciding with the ending days of summer — can be filled with quietude and reflection. Locate interesting readings to stimulate your thoughts. If you haven’t been to synagogue in a long time, attend a Shabbat service in the weeks leading up to the holidays as a “warm up.”
• Once you have chosen a synagogue for the holidays, make sure that you meet the physical needs of anyone with whom you will be attending. Does anyone need a special seat or assistive listening device? Many synagogues will be able to meet your requests if they are given advance notice. In addition, think about what childcare arrangements, if any, you may need and register soon for babysitting or school age programming to avoid the stressful last minute rush.
• If you have school-age children, keep in mind that many religious schools start classes immediately following Rosh Hashana. Give your child the benefit of starting on time by registering now. The adjustment to a new class or school will be easier at the beginning of the year.
• Giving tzedaka, or charity, at this time of the year is considered a mitzva. Think about what charities are consistent with your values and consider what you can comfortably afford. If you are in need of financial assistance yourself, do not hesitate to reach out to the many organizations there to help. Also, many local synagogues are offering free passes to attend High Holy Days services this year.
Of course, what would the holidays be without a few festive meals? If you’re an enthusiastic cook, there are many great recipes available on the Internet or through the websites of local synagogues. Or, take advantage of many local caterers who provide a complete holiday dinner. If you don’t have family nearby, and want to share a meal with the company of others, find a synagogue that hosts a community break-the-fast or holiday dinner.
Remember, don’t get intimidated; get educated. Seeking out the answers to your questions upfront will help make the High Holy Days the joyous and peaceful time of year it deserves to be.