With Rosh Hashanah coming up, many of us are ready to say good riddance to the Hebrew calendar year 5780. We start the new year amid historic wildfires, nationwide reckoning with racial injustice and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has changed how we live our lives, and now how we celebrate our High Holy Days.
COVID-19 continues to spread in the Pacific Northwest, and we must continue to protect ourselves and others from potential exposure. Oregon has reached 28,661 total cases, and 501 people have died as of Sept. 11, 2020. However, we are making progress on reducing the spread, and the state has just marked five consecutive weeks of declining case counts. During the week beginning on Aug. 31, the Oregon Health Authority recorded 1,477 new cases of COVID-19 infection, down from the previous week’s total of 1,558 cases.
For holidays usually marked by seeing friends and reconnecting with Jewish communities in synagogues, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will look and feel quite different this year. While we may not sing together in sanctuaries or schmooze between services as usual, we can still welcome in the new year and take time to reflect.
The lowest-risk option regarding COVID-19 is to stay home. Depending on your religious observance, consider checking out online synagogue services, either locally or around the world. Many synagogues offer free streaming for the High Holy Days, even to nonmembers.
If you choose to gather in person with friends or family for the holidays, please take precautions to reduce risk of exposure. Keep groups small and limit travel. Outdoor gatherings generally pose lower risk than indoor, but with wildfire smoke across the region, be sure to check local air quality at www.airnow.gov or other sites before going outside. Official guidelines require that everyone above the age of 5 wear a mask indoors in places other than your household and outdoors when 6 feet of physical distance is not possible.
While there is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through food, the CDC warns that gathering around food can pose a risk. It is safest to avoid potlucks, buffets, drinks stations and sharing of utensils. Instead, have guests bring their own food, utensils and beverages to facilitate physical distance. The apples and honey will taste even sweeter when you know you’re keeping people safe.
Granted, it is difficult to plan for holidays during so much chaos. As we move into the new year, remember that although you can’t fix every disaster, each person can make the year a little sweeter for someone else. Consider picking out one new way you will care for the world or your community this year. This is an uncertain time for many people, so reach out and take care of each other.
The Congregation Neveh Shalom COVID-19 Outreach and Services team is funded to serve the entire Jewish community in the tri-county area, so please contact us for assistance and connection at:
Estee Emlen is an Outreach and Education Coordinator for Congregation Neveh Shalom COVID-19 Outreach and Services. CNSCOS is a new team appointed by Congregation Neveh Shalom with funding from the Oregon Health Authority tasked with helping limit the spread of COVID-19 by providing services and timely information to the Jewish communities of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.