Whether you’re an introvert who finds hanging out with people exhausting, or an extrovert who is stressed out at the thought of spending more than five minutes alone, the High Holiday season has opportunities for you to both lean into and challenge your nature by intentionally spending time with God, with yourself, and with others. We have the opportunity to celebrate and explore the spiritual significance of these holy days and gain a deeper understanding of our heritage and ourselves.
Here are five ways to revel in community this holiday season:
1. Interview Your Family
If your relatives flock to the dinner table at Rosh Hashanah, it’s a great (and possibly chaotic) time to learn from your family—because we all know that being related certainly doesn’t mean we’re the same. If you have younger generations present, take the opportunity to ask what they value about their Jewish heritage, and perhaps what they hope to pass on to future generations. If you have an older generation present, use the occasion to interview one of them: your parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents (or if you’re lucky, great-grandparents).
Many who have gone before us have compelling stories, old photos, and treasured recipes to share, and are simply waiting for someone to ask. It doesn’t have to be a high-tech production, just take a video, photo, or audio recording on your phone, or jot down some notes. These pieces of your history will be valuable to pass on to future generations.
Nechama Birnbaum, known as “The Redhead of Auschwitz” on Instagram, has documented her grandmother’s life, story, and words on Instagram (and in a published memoir) to preserve her legacy. It is a simple way of sharing that has had a profound impact. Although Nechama’s grandmother has recently passed away, the stories her granddaughter has compiled will forever be a blessing.
2. Care for Those in Need
During this High Holiday season, many people are struggling due to inflation, job loss, food and supply shortages, and perhaps even poor health or disability as a result of having survived severe forms of COVID. The war in Ukraine has caused many families, Holocaust survivors, and orphaned children incredible suffering. Charities are working overtime to meet rising needs. For those of us who have been able to keep our jobs (maybe even in a remote position), stay safe, and remain in good health, we now have the responsibility and opportunity to give back.
In fact, as Jewish people, charity is a foundational value. The Talmud says, “Let your home be wide open and the needy be members of your household” (Avot 1:5). Jewish tradition recognizes that we have a social responsibility to fulfill and build into our communities, sharing generously of our resources—whether that be money, food, or even our time.
There are many organizations answering this call: the Red Cross, CARE, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, etc. One organization, Chevra International, focuses on helping Holocaust survivors, the poor, and Ukrainian refugees by providing food and support, and even transporting Jewish war orphans to Israel. Find a cause that’s important to you and donate to their work.
3. Get Introspective
The High Holidays are filled with a lot of levity but punctuated by moments of heaviness. Fasting, forgiveness, acknowledging our mistakes, and purging bad attitudes isn’t meant to be fun, but it can be incredibly meaningful. And while there are many opportunities to spend time with our community during these days, this introspective work is a part that only we can do. Ultimately, Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe, and Rosh Hashanah traditions like Tashlich are about a much smaller community: just us and God.
We can each spend some time doing things that help us look inward and outward: writing in a journal, meditating on a piece of the Tanakh, or simply sitting in nature. As we spend time with Him, we can recognize what separates us from Him and commit ourselves to draw near to God.
4. Hang Out with Other Jewish People
There’s something life-giving about being Jewish around other Jews. You don’t have to become a full-fledged, paying member of your bubbie’s shul, but reciting some of those prayers in harmony with a congregation around you can be both comforting and powerful (however rusty or unfamiliar it may feel). Attending your local Jewish Community Center for a holiday event or class can be a good way to immerse yourself in Jewish life.
If you like to keep it more low-key, text another Jewish friend to get together and mark the occasion in a way that feels accessible: like l’chaim-ing over some apples and honey, breaking your fast together, or sharing a meal outdoors. Our shared history and experiences allow us to connect with each other, and our differences allow us to learn from one another. The holidays provide an opportunity to broaden your Jewish experience by intentionally participating in the community
5. Invite Non-Jewish Friends to Celebrate with You
Hospitality is a central theme of Sukkot. The first day festival liturgy reads, “I invite to my meal the exalted guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell with me and with you . . . ”1 The Zohar goes so far as to say that we should invite all our neighbors in (Zohar 104a).
We should seek out the opportunity to host guests of any kind, especially those in need—and this is not an invite that is limited to Jewish people. We invite to our celebration the ancestors who shaped us, along with opening our “mini homes” to our friends, neighbors, and the poor.
The prophet Zechariah speaks of a time when the community of Israel will be far bigger than it is now. In fact, all the nations will be invited (actually, commanded) to celebrate Sukkot with us (Zechariah 14:16–19). Let’s build towards this future as we build our sukkahs—and invite our neighbors to join us in celebration.
Whether we’re ringing in a sweet new year, reflecting on our connection to God, or spending time in our backyard sukkah, there’s unparalleled opportunity to expand our Jewish community experience this High Holiday season. What ideas or traditions do you have that promote togetherness? Let us know! Share your thoughts by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lesli Koppelman Ross, “Ushpizin: Welcoming Guests,” My Jewish Learning, accessed June 6, 2022.