Q: Could you please share your advice on how synagogues should adapt their upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur High Holiday services in light of COVID-19 concerns? For instance, given the amount of lung power it takes to sound the ram's horn (the shofar), how much social distancing would be required from the shofar blower to be safe from the potential spread of virus particles? — A from Garden City

A: Thank you for a question that is bedeviling every rabbi and cantor I know. I usually return to my congregation, Temple Beth Torah, on Long Island from wherever I am living to preach the Rosh Hashanah sermon in front of thousands of people. But this year nobody will be in my synagogue, and so I am about to record my Rosh Hashanah sermon on my porch in Colorado in front of three dogs and a black cat, who will be anxiously waiting for me to finish so I can give her a bowl of milk! This has never happened before, and let me broaden your appreciation of the catastrophe all religious institutions are facing. Never before have all the Christians in the world had to stay home during Holy Week and Easter. Never before have Muslims been unable to gather for the Eid el-Fitr feast on May 23 and Ashurah on Aug. 28. Never before have Hindus been unable to gather for Diwali on Nov. 14. Never before have Buddhists been unable to celebrate Wesak, the Buddha's birthday on May 7 (or perhaps by then they will!). This pandemic has not only shut down the world's economies, it has shut down the world's religions.

So, IMHO this is what we can and must do now to keep our spiritual plants alive and watered so they can survive the parched and infected climate we are all forced to endure now.

1. Stop kvetching. Kvetch is a Yiddish word that means "to complain," but it really means something deeper. It really means, "Stop complaining about things you cannot change, and stop making things difficult for those who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. Your kvetching only makes you look peevish and it diminishes the gratitude you should feel for those who are working extra hard to get us all through this madness." Clergy work hard patching up the wounds of the world and giving hope to those who despair. They do this in normal times, but these are not normal times. So all of you, dear readers, who are members of a religious institution, please stop kvetching! Yes, things are bad now, but they will get better.

2. Reach out to your clergy and send a check. Not kvetching is just the beginning. Your clergy are trying to reach out to you. It might be through the internet or social distancing or phone calls to see if you are all right. Your religious services are weird now because you cannot sit together as a religious community of believers, but you still have religious services. Your clergy are reaching out to you, now is the time for you to reach out to them. Take time to write to your spiritual leaders and thank them for all the extra work they are doing to keep your congregation together and hopeful. And when you send that letter of thanks, put a check in it to help offset the dramatic drop in charitable contributions that religious institutions are experiencing. Whether your place is supported by dues or passing the plate, there is not enough money to keep the harsh winds of this pandemic from blowing down God's houses. I know times are tough for all of us, but things are especially tough for those who care for all of us in the name of God.

The sounding of the shofar is a biblical commandment associated with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is meant to call to mind the ram offered by Abraham instead of his son Isaac, and it remains a clarion call to repentance, called teshuvah in Hebrew. Teshuvah means "turning" and now is the time for us to begin a worldwide turning from complaint to construction, from self to selflessness, from despair to delight, from getting to gifting — and to do all this you do not need to be sitting in a plush pew. All you need is to sit quietly on a simple chair with a contrite heart before the God of your life and find your way back to God.

May God grant us holidays where we are together next year.

SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at godsquadquestion@aol.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.


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