The boundaries placed between us by the coronavirus pandemic means this year’s Rosh Hashanah will be unlike any other.
Beginning tonight, it marks the Jewish New Year – ordinarily a time for family and fellowship.
But while maintaining that spirit is much more difficult in these testing times, the spirit of optimism that Rosh Hashanah embodies will be very much alive in thousands of Greater Manchester homes.
Here, Marc Levy, regional manager of the Jewish Leadership Council, describes what it means to celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year, and the beacon of hope its reflective tradition provides.
This weekend, the Jewish community across Greater Manchester and the whole world will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah, our new year.
When describing what a typical Rosh Hashanah looks like, I become aware of how much I value familiar routines.
Ordinarily, I would attend Synagogue in the morning, sitting in my usual seat amongst familiar faces whilst people remarked how much my children had grown.
In between prayer and the awakening offered by the blowing of the ram’s horn – the shofar , we would all exchange anecdotes, jokes and stories from the previous year.
Following on from the service, we would gather nearby for a lunch lasting the whole afternoon alongside close family. At this meal, we would undertake the same rituals handed down through the generations.
As is customary as one year ends and another begins, it is a time of reflection and making resolutions. However, it is obvious to us all that this has been no ordinary year.
This year, I will not take my usual place in my Synagogue due to the extensive precautions necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic. I will not have that special feeling of seeing four generations of my family taking part in the synagogue service.
Due to the current restrictions, we will also not be able to congregate for a long and leisurely lunch free from the distractions of technology and the fast pace of modern life.
For the first time since the Second World War, faith communities in the UK, including the Jewish community will be unable to practice as we normally would.
However, despite the unprecedented situation, I feel that we can be more proud than ever of how our community has come together.
Led by remarkable charities and organisations of which there are far too many to name, there has been a fierce determination to ensure the needy and vulnerable are cared for, helping those both within and outside the Jewish community.
An army of volunteers has been mobilised to support those in need. Food and medication was obtained for those shielding and unable to leave their homes.
Several organisations combined to ensure a safety net was established for those suffering financial distress due to the pandemic. It is also accepted that children missing school were badly affected so charities created special online shows and handed out packs of essentials and toys.
There has been collaborative working on a scale that we have never seen before as newly established professional and personal relationships continue to develop. This will be hugely beneficial as we hopefully return to some semblance of normality in the near future. We have also once again learnt to appreciate those carers and key workers who look after us in times of crisis.
In Judaism, we have a concept called Pikuach Nefesh , the obligation to preserve life. This belief transcends many other obligations in Judaism – even in the toughest of times. At the Jewish New Year and on our holiest day in just over a week’s time – Yom Kippur, the day of atonement – it will be vital that we follow government guidelines so we are able to preserve life. It is vital that we all play our part to prevent the spread of this virus.
The traditional greeting at this time of year is Shanah tovah um’tukah , meaning have a good and sweet new year.
As the Jewish year 5780 concludes and we move forward to the year 5781 in the Jewish calendar, I hope we are able to revert back to a more traditional Rosh Hashana in around 12 months’ time. This year I not only wish my Jewish friends and family a Happy New Year but also wish everyone in our city a safe new year whereby things can only get better. Shana Tova!