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High Holy Days at Home

For most of us, our homes have become our classrooms, yoga studios, offices, and more. We have re-purposed our kitchens, basements, dining rooms, and spare corners in our homes. So where is our synagogue in this space? 

When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, our rabbis of that time asked the same question. The central place of worship, our main Temple, was no longer a place in which we could pray together - so what should we do? They coined the phrase “mikdash me’at” - a small sanctuary - and reminded us that holiness can be found wherever we let it in. This includes the space inside our homes. 

And yet, we are faced with a challenge. When we work, play, eat, and do just about everything at home, how do we find spiritual mindset in these same spaces? How can the office in which we learn and work also give us holy sustenance? We will miss being together physically, in the close crowd that fills our synagogue space with beautiful music and the shared experience of being together. So we must find a new path, a way for us to feel together while we are physically apart, a way to connect our homes through the digital pixels and help us each to create that sacred space - mikdash me’at - for us all.

And so, we offer these suggestions to help you enhance the High Holy Days experience at home, while also connecting you to the rest of our community.

  • Clear your calendar of work and school obligations, just as you would when leaving your house for the holy days. It’s so tempting to check in on an email, but consider reserving your computer and home for prayer on this day. 
  • Look around your home and choose a prayer space carefully in advance. Where will you be comfortable? Where will everyone have a special spot together? If you have small children, perhaps a space where they can move around? Consider choosing a place in your home that you haven’t been using for work or school. Spend a few moments of individual or family contemplation. Don’t wait for the last minute to decide!
  • What will you sit on? A chair? A couch? Perhaps find a special cushion or pillow for each family member, or drape the space with a beautiful piece of fabric or scarf.
  • Where will you place the computer on which to stream the services? Transform the space by covering the desk or table with a white tablecloth, a runner, a placement, and/or a vase of flowers or other beautiful decoration.
  • Add meaningful objects to your space. Bring out your candlesticks, kiddush cup. Create a special photo gallery or display of family heirlooms. 
  • If possible, move the computer space back so that you are “watching” the screen more than “manipulating” it. Consider connecting your computer to a TV screen so it feels less like a work device.
  • Try to limit or disconnect auditory distractions. You can turn off your email and text message ping sounds, and/or close your email program and other apps so you can be fully present during the service.
  • Dress comfortably but wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. Kippah and tallit are welcome if they help you express a connection to this special worship. Maybe you’ll wear white to symbolize holiness & purity. Perhaps you’ll laugh at bare feet, or perhaps you’ll put on your favorite shoes. Maybe this year you’ll embrace the Rosh HaShanah tradition of wearing something new and reciting Shehecheyanu. (New fuzzy socks might be just the thing!)
  • As you prepare to settle into your sacred space, before the services begin, offer a prayer of separation, celebrating the creation of holy time in your home: 


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל

Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol. 

Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between holy and ordinary.

Finally, be open to the experience. Of course, sitting in our beautiful synagogue for Rosh HaShanah 5780, we would never have imagined what 5781 would bring. Take advantage of this opportunity to try something new, to remember favorite High Holy Days memories, to create new family experiences, and to cultivate blessing and gratitude in your home. This year, you won’t have to worry about parking or finding just the right seat, but you will be able to find holiness and meaning in these holiest of our days. 

Tue, January 19 2021 6 Sh'vat 5781