There is nothing quite like being in shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I never feel the impact of the phrase, “k’eesh echad b’lev echad,” that the Jewish people are like one person with one heart, as strongly as I do on the High Holy Days, when everyone is gathered together and wearing emotions openly.
This year, however, because of the pandemic, the world I treasured so deeply was ripped from me. I have a neuromuscular condition which makes me immunocompromised, and I need to be hyper-careful, knowing that even completely healthy people have suffered horribly from this disease. I can’t take any chances of potentially getting the mysterious COVID-19, so for months I knew that I would not be able to go to shul in person for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Even with all of the safety precautions my congregation was taking, I realized I could not risk sitting next to someone who did not wear a mask at all, or did not wear it properly covering her nose and mouth.
Since I am a consistent shul-goer, it was difficult for me to reconcile myself to this. As a child, I sat with my mother rather than going to youth groups. My father took me to shul every Shabbos and Yom Tov. As I’ve gotten older, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are especially poignant and meaningful days for me, and I take the seriousness of the teshuva season extremely seriously.
The months of Elul and Tishrei are times of self-reflection. Yet, the beginning of the pandemic was instead a time of fear, anger, sadness, confusion. Of course, I am just a human being. Often, I wondered why Hashem is making this pandemic last so long. I questioned the curveball thrown into our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly religious traditions, laws, and obligations; making it difficult to accomplish doing the mitzvot. Now, a few months later, I feel I’ve gained perspective.
Some people’s hardships are more evident, while other people have deep, secret hardships about which they do not speak. A human being is not defined by this. What defines a person is how he or she deals with, overcomes, or accepts hardship.
Sometimes we become too complacent, jaded, or ungrateful. When this happens I believe that Hashem sends us a message in order to shake us, wake us up, and show us that we need to do better, whether we need to be kinder and more understanding to ourselves, or to others. While it was painful for me to stay home on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I came to realize that I was not meant to be in shul. I stayed home this year so that, hopefully, Im Yirtzah Hashem, if God wills it, I can be there safely next year, and the years to come.