I miss Rosh Hashanah cards. They used to begin arriving in my mail box about three weeks before Rosh Hashanah. Sometimes I knew I was one name on a list of thousands. Other cards were a message from a great aunt or a member of my community who wanted to tell me something personal. I always felt a bit ashamed of this enjoyment because I have never sent cards at the New Year. To have one more thing to do, one more list to compile, seemed way beyond my practical and emotional capacity at this time of year. But I looked forward to receiving them, and then hanging them as the major form of decoration in the Sukkah.
Now I receive New Year’s greetings in the form of emails. I deeply appreciate that emails are significantly better for the very world whose creation we celebrate on Rosh Hashanah. Still, receiving a greeting in an email has a different flavor. It lacks the distinctive signature, the feel and texture of the paper, the option to place it where it can be seen as a small connection to the broader circle of Jews ushering in a New Year. An email is transient and ephemeral, gone when the delete button is pushed. In an in-box that is too often overflowing, somehow the greeting becomes just one more thing to click on, one more item to get through.
I know that my feeling is not about cards vs. email. It’s about connection. While there is shared commiseration on Facebook about sermons not yet written and the challenge of finding just the right story, for those who are leading services there is an element of loneliness in the work we do this time of year. The decision about what our particular community needs to hear from the pulpit rests with each individual rabbi. Are there consequences in my particular location and community if I say something that may be controversial or unpopular? Sitting in front of a blinking cursor, an open machzor is a solitary task.
We hold personal burdens as well, burdens that are not so easy to talk about with each other. Is my rabbinic leadership being evaluated based on my Kol Nidrei sermon or the perceived ‘quality’ of the worship? Is my authenticity lessened when I preach about spiritual preparation and can’t seem to make the time for my own Elul introspection? What do I do with the guilt I carry about the impact this time of year has on my family?
We may face many of the same questions, but we do so in our own silos, by ourselves. This need not be the case. We know from you that you want to reach out to each other, to help and support, in a way that goes beyond the superficial email. As a rabbinic community, we can live up to that intention. Amidst the stress of the season, it’s a blessing to hear the voice of another rabbi – the rabbi you talked with at convention but haven’t spoken to since, the new colleague who came to town who you don’t really know yet, the classmate you haven’t seen in a year, a friend. The nourishment that occurs of those moments of relationship is a way to prepare for the sacred days that lie ahead. You can’t hang a phone call in a sukkah, but the connection will stay with you long after the sukkah has come down.
Rabbi Betsy Torop is the Director of Rabbinic Engagement and Growth for the Central Conference of American Rabbis.