High Holy Days

In the Middle of the Night: A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

Rabbi Paul Kipnes shares his anxiety about the intersection of High Holy Days and the coronavirus pandemic, which has upended what had been finely honed planning and practices.

Can I be honest? In these past months, I have lost more sleep, wrestled with more anxiety, and endured new levels of second-guessing myself, all because the intersection of High Holy Days and the coronavirus pandemic has upended finely honed planning and practices. Where once many of my fellow rabbis and I felt pressure over sermon writing, now, like so many colleagues around the world, we are stressing out over megabytes needed and minutes to cut, and platforms to stream on, and prayers to preserve. And then one late night, this confession came forth. Perhaps it speaks of your truth too:

In the Middle of the Night:
A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession

In the middle of the night 
I am feeling the fright
About how to do this right—
My High Holy Days COVID-19 rewrite

Can I be an inspiration?
Will I shine a comforting light?
Will the internet hold up
Providing sufficient megabytes?

Are my kavannot kosher?
Are my stories too trite?
Should we prerecord or livestream
At the temple or offsite

What passions can I convey
From my living room as I sit tight?
What comfort can I bring
Streaming from a distance satellite?

Will I uplift enough souls
To make my community unite?
Will my sermons make them think
Or will they just cause a dogfight?

Can my services really stem
The feared membership flight?
Will my appeal really raise Tzedakah
From each philanthropic socialite?

Did we think it all through
Was our preparation airtight?
Did I fail to strategically plan
Without sufficient foresight?

Will I fall to the virus
The thermometer’s rising Fahrenheit?
Or from something unexpectedly random
Like a West Nile virus mosquito bite?

Have I already ruined Yom Kippur
Like a wayward satellite? 
Will I watch it come crashing down 
Like a fiery meteorite?

Will I later kick myself
With 2020’s hindsight
After I quickly crash and burn-
Oy, I’m getting stage fright

Yes, I’m trying for homeostasis 
To be patient and polite
But my heart’s being attacked
By anxiety’s lymphocyte

So as I ride the rollercoaster
Like a frightened suburbanite
I’m trying to discern the future 
Like a soon-to-be extinct Canaanite

Worrying, when we gather together 
For Rosh Hashanah’s first candlelight
Will my rabbinate already be over
Before I step into the limelight

Like all my clergy friends
I’m trying to breath through the fright
Though the pressure’s overwhelming
For us clerical leading lights

I know our people have the desire 
And a massive spiritual appetite 
So I wonder what else can I bring
During this moment of irreligious blight

What else can I offer
That will make my community delight?
Oy, I’d better calm down
So I don’t seem so uptight

And I’d better get some sleep
Hours after midnight
So I can get up and get working
At the first morning’s light

Just one more thought…
What if… 

My sermons are ready
And the chanting seems right
And the Torah’s all rolled 
And my machzor’s in sight
Will it all be for naught
Even if I get it all right
Because I simply forgot to send
The congregational Zoom invite?

Anxiety, I hate you
But at least you’re my constant friend
I’ll see you every night
Until these High Holy Days end.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California.

2 replies on “In the Middle of the Night: A High Holy Day Clergy COVID-19 Confession”

Thank you for sharing this. That about sums it up. But for those of us on the east coast or the south we need a stanza about hurricanes and losing power and/or internet. That has been my latest anxiety.

Dear Rabbi Paul, Thank you so much for sharing what’s going on inside of you at this time. You are truly amazing! We all love you for who you are and for being so transparent. You are truly a gift to our Congregation Or Ami community. I can’t even image what you are going through. May you have strength to get through the High Holidays and whatever comes your way. My whole life I have been affiliated with many temples. I can honestly say I have never felt so loved and welcomed as I do as a member of Or Ami. Again, I have no idea the depth of what you are going through pertaining to Covid-19 and the additional strains that show up almost daily. I do know you will shine, you will deliver, you will raise even more money than you expect from your appeal. I’m sorry for your pain and emotions as you navigate through our High Holidays.
We all hold you, we are all supporting you through these daunting times.
You will shine more brightly and we will be inspired by you and the energy you bring forth. We are rooting for you. We love you more than you’ll ever know.

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