Nathan Abrams reflects on how there will be little change to his Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
There is a great deal of talk about how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be different this year for many people but for me it won’t. In fact, it will be better.
I live in Bangor, in northwest Wales. My nearest functioning synagogue is a 36-minute drive away in Llandudno. If I was to be observant, and walk, it would be almost seven hours according to Google Maps. I don’t love shul so much that I would make that trek.
Besides, the synagogue in Llandudno isn’t a community-based synagogue (as outlined here) but is run by Chabad and hosts a series of visiting frummers. This is not enticing, as it barely has more than a minyan and the one time I did try it, I realised how dull a Jewish service without the socialising actually is.
This was in the past, to be fair, and they have more recently extended invitations to myself and the Jewish students at Bangor University (where I am also a member of the University’s Chaplaincy team as a Jewish advisor). I was tempted to taste what the cholent might be like, or if there was shmaltz herring for kiddush, but then again the schlep put me off. And my two young kids would no doubt have been bored to tears without any other children to play with, or a children’s service, or their tablets (and I don’t mean the tablets of law here).
Although there is a sprinkling of students, individuals and families across north Wales, there isn’t any organised Jewish community. I doubt, therefore, we could have mustered more than six anyway so the government guidelines are irrelevant.
For the same reason, no one is coming over for or going anywhere for any lunches. Sometimes I might make honey cake but only if I can be bothered. Donations are welcome.
To Eat or Not To Eat
And then there is Yom Kippur. Again, shul does not entice me. It’s really the community I go for, the schmooze. Thus, there will be no difference for me this year.
I don’t fast anymore, so I won’t be breaking the fast with anyone. But even though I don’t fast, I still like to break the fast nevertheless. It’s just harder to do when you have to pretend you’re starving when you’re not. But I make a sterling effort at scoffing as much as I possibly can because it is the one occasion where all of my favourite Jewish delicacies can be found in the same meal.
On that note, when I did regularly observe the fast, over one Yom Kippur I was hospitalised. I thought to myself, ‘Great, I’ll get to eat’, only to be disappointed when I was informed that I was to be ‘Nil by mouth’ for the duration of the day as I was going under a general anaesthetic. I was gutted (not literally in this case – the operation was another part of my body).
Where more observant or traditional Jews have feelings of disconnect this new year, I have feelings of disconnect all year round. I did used to enjoy this time of year – the socialising, the food, the long lunches at my parents’ house, going to Grassroots Jews, the spectacle of Kol Nidre. But these are all distant memories now.
Reading about the measures that synagogues in bigger communities such as London are being forced to take, this year sounds better in many ways than previous years. Among such ‘innovations’, I learn that children under the age of nine are being banned from some synagogues and that this was a ‘painful’ decision. Thinking back to my childhood, this would not have been painful for me. I would have dreamed of being banned from shul (and, owing to misbehaviour, I almost was on many occasions I’m sure). I bet the under nines are rejoicing this year. I bet the over nines are cursing their luck.
Another boon is that synagogues are shortening services. This is to make them more ‘tolerable’. I love this idea. Maybe all services should be shortened all year round to make them more ‘tolerable’.
But don’t feel pity for me. While I’m not Orthodox, I will be observing the prohibition on using phones and electronic devices on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, plus the sabbath, so that services cannot be streamed into my home. No one has made any effort to stream anything to me or those in my situation over the past fourteen years so why should these nights be any different?