The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah have always looked a certain way in our home. The topics of discussion are pretty much predictable year after year.  In no particular order: Guests. Seats. Shuls. Menu. Shiurim.

We would discuss whether or not it makes sense to have guests if the people we invite daven at a different shul than we do. We tend to daven in shuls that end later than most, and we wouldn’t want our guests to have to listen to the sounds of their stomachs grumbling while we are listening to the sounds of the shofar and shuckling our way through Avinu Malkeinu. We pay our membership dues to the various shuls to which we belong so that we can get our seats for the Yamim Nora’im. It’s a great deal because if you pay your dues, then you get your seats for free. Imagine that. We always have a discussion about whether or not we should daven in a local yeshivah that isn’t really all that local and involves about an hour’s walk in each direction. We really love davening there as we have done for many years, but since we moved to our current home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, it’s always a question if we are ready to brave the heat and come home from davening at 5 o’clock in the afternoon looking like we’d just stepped out of a swimming pool wearing inappropriately formal attire. When we do choose to daven in the yeshivah, our afternoon Yom Tov meal needs to be even further delayed until we manage to stop sweating. Of course, we always discuss menus, as I like to make some special foods for Yom Tov rather than the same ol’ chicken and potato kugel. But at the same time, I prefer that the food I prepare actually gets eaten. It’s not so easy to find foods that satisfy both of these conditions. And then there are all the inspirational shiurim we attend during this time, which we also like to share with each other. These are the discussions we have during normal times.

But these are not normal times. Our pre-Rosh Hashanah discussions focused on many of those topics, but on others as well. In no particular order: Guests. Shuls. Lockdown. Seats. Lockdown. Uman. Capsules. Risk factor. Lockdown. Menu. Lockdown.

We talked a lot about where we would daven.  Going to the not-so-local yeshiva was not an option this year. And will there really be a lockdown? Over Yom tov?  Will we daven in a real shul? With a ceiling and walls, and large sheets of plastic used to create separate capsules? Is that really safe? Will we daven on the street, baking in the heat? (I think Dr. Seuss would love that question.) If there is a lockdown, how strict will it be? Will I manage to get up at neitz (sunrise) two days in a row in order to be able to finish davening before the sun blazes down and becomes unbearable? Will davening be purposefully quicker in order to finish before it gets too hot? On Rosh Hashanah? And what about the lockdown?  And the Breslovers?  Will they get into the Ukraine after all? Will they spend Yom Tov in Belarus?  And the menus.  How does one cook for a small crowd?  Will sweet and sour cabbage soup, a food never yet seen in my home, pass muster? Is it worth taking a chance (another risk factor)? Maybe it will be okay if I have chicken soup as a backup.  And what about the lockdown?  Are we really going to be stuck at home for the next three weeks or more? Will our sons be able to come home at all for Yom Tov?

We decided to daven with the minyan on our street which would begin at neitz. My husband would daven down on the street with the men and I would daven with our daughter on our mirpeset. My husband was kind enough to put up our schach so that we wouldn’t melt during davening. There were actually many Sukkahs, tarps, and gazebos put up literally all over town for this exact purpose.  With all the confusion these days, it made you wonder whether the upcoming holiday was Rosh Hashanah or Sukkos.

Things worked out very nicely in the end.  Getting up at neitz was not that bad.  There was something very warm and comforting about davening with our neighbors, even though I didn’t see many of them, as the women were all in garages and on mirpasot. But just knowing they were there gave me a good feeling. The ba’alei tefilah did a great job, along with our very own homegrown professional singer providing the harmony. Despite being the last house on the block, fortunately, I managed to hear just about everything. 

With the many street minyanim in the vicinity and in close proximity, it kind of felt like all of Ramat Beit Shemesh was one big shul without walls. When another minyan sang a song that I like, I got to cheat and eavesdrop on their minyan.  I was thrilled to hear “Ochila La’kel” and some of my other favorites multiple times.  There was no problem at all hearing 100 blasts of the shofar, as the sounds of the blasts came from every direction. There were no borders. Truthfully, many boundaries were blurred.  My son chose to daven in a real shul at a regular hour, but he came out to the mirpeset when he first woke up in the morning just to see what we were up to.  He wasn’t really dressed yet so I questioned how he could come to shul in his pajamas.  But what was shul for me was just a mirpeset for him.  It was like being in one big multi-purpose room whose function depended on one’s need and perspective. Usually, if someone brings a baby to shul, the mother takes him/her out if he/she cries.  My neighbor brought her baby to the minyan, but when she started to cry, she had to bring her inside. Everything is inside out and upside down these days. But yet, there are many positives to what we are experiencing.  The atmosphere on Rosh Hashanah was upbeat and uplifting. And to top it all off, the sweet and sour soup was a big hit!

Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.