Melbourne – looking back
For student Joseph Folwell, his mum, Jacki and sister Gypsy, a typical Rosh Hashanah would entail going to shule, followed by a dinner with extended family, brimming with laughter and table games. An annual children’s photo would also be taken in the hallway. However, along with the rest of Melbourne’s Jewish community, Joseph and his family had to adapt their new year celebrations in 2020 while the state was in lockdown.
“My family is not too tech savvy, so we found it extremely difficult to get everyone connected. We stared at blank screens for extended periods of time, and watched people try to talk with their microphone switched off,” Joseph recalled. However, he and his family were still able to create renewed meaning for Rosh Hashanah last year, thanks to the array of community services and resources on offer.
“Lockdown may have taken away the ability to visit houses, go for walks with the people you love or even just enjoy dinner at a nice restaurant, but it did not take away one thing, the ability to be kind to one another,” said Joseph.
These demonstrations of kindness manifested through Project High Holy Days, a collaboration between the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and the government to send hundreds of volunteers across Melbourne to blow shofars on every street corner. This venture allowed the community to hear the shofar while adhering to health guidelines. Shules across Melbourne offered congregants online classes on how to perform the customs at home, with festival kits to encourage families to stay involved in tradition. The Jewish Museum of Australia was one organisation that ran online events for the Jewish community and the wider public to learn more about the festival.
Joseph’s family found that discovering the fun in celebrating Rosh Hashanah is something every family should implement going into the new year this year, whether it be in lockdown or with family. “As our country starts to repair itself from the pandemic and healthily move forward, we need to be more grateful for these technologies and just enjoy the time we have.”
Sydney – looking forward
The tables have turned for Sydney’s Jewish community this year, swapping out large serving dishes for a good internet connection as families prepare to bring in the new year differently. AUJS NSW president Nadia Coburn, however, is gearing up to enrich her locked-down Rosh Hashanah with the same positivity she brought to last year’s celebrations.
“We will hopefully be holding the Rosh Hashanah dinner on Zoom, which worked well for us during Pesach in 2020, so there is no doubt that it would work again. We will also listen and participate in an online shule service with Emanuel Synagogue, which is similar to what we did last year, and it was a really beautiful service,” Nadia said.
For Nadia and her family, upholding the tradition of Rosh Hashanah as a time for renewal and personal growth will not be inhibited by celebrating at home, and can even be an opportunity to include international family.
“I think we should be looking at the positive side of what Zoom can bring to the table, such as the ability to include overseas family members and friends in your services. Through Zoom, we have been able to either stay in touch or get back in touch with family members overseas, such as in England and the United States. They have been able to join in on our services and we have been able to attend services overseas, which has been really cool and different.”
Nadia’s recommendation for individuals or families struggling to get into the new year spirit in lockdown is to find meaning in virtual connection with loved ones and utilise the opportunities online communication provides.
“My biggest piece of advice is to stay positive. It is important to remain connected and in touch with friends and family no matter if you are in lockdown or not.”