Progressively Speaking: What does the new year mean if we can’t be in shul?

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Progressively Speaking: What does the new year mean if we can’t be in shul?

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a topical issue and looks at a Liberal Jewish response


Rabbi Joshua Heschel said of the Jews that instead of building huge cathedrals to mark space, we make cathedrals of time.

As a community, we navigate liminal periods with ceremonies that take us from one moment to the next. Havdalah takes us out of Shabbat and into the week, bnei mitzvah from childhood to adulthood and Rosh Hashanah from one year into the next.

The fact that we cannot be physically together in the same space this year, in the same way as we have done for as long as we can remember, can mean that we can feel suspended in the in-between – desirous to leave the old year behind and yet unable to enter the new one. 

It can feel that we have no real marker, no cathedral of time.

My colleagues in Liberal Judaism, and across the entire Jewish community, are doing their very best to create new rituals and reinvent old ones.

The year 5781 will be remembered for many things, but for me above all it was the year we were creative enough to keep congregations open and connected even when we had to shut the doors of
our buildings. 

It was the year we recognised how many people had been excluded from our communities in years past, by the stumbling blocks we did not know we had erected, and we flung doors, screens and webcams open wide to bring them in.

This year over the High Holy Days, Liberal Judaism will return to Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube to bring our members everything from traditional services and discussion groups to plays and puppet shows.

We would be delusional if we thought it will be the same. But then, even when we are in our buildings, the year end and beginning is not
the same. 

Rosh Hashanah is in itself a liminal moment; we stand between life and death, the good and the bad and what are we told? Only choose life and the good, reminds our text and our tradition.

So this year, as we enter 5781 and say goodbye to 5780, I am embracing this wilderness, this moment as itself a chance to note the blessings and curses of this time, the good and the bad and I will choose life…

  •  Rabbi Charley Baginsky is interim director of Liberal Judaism

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