A new kind of New Year: Hillel’s virtual plans for the High Holidays

Emily Sakai, Assistant Campus Editor

For members of the Jewish community, the High Holidays are a time of reflection and togetherness. This year, as COVID-19 is preventing many from observing the holidays as they typically would, Northwestern Hillel has moved all of its programming to a virtual format.

The online program includes a variety of services, learning opportunities and meal offerings for Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Friday evening, and Yom Kippur, which begins the next weekend. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur is a time of reflection and repentance for the year’s sins.

These will be the first High Holidays at Northwestern for Rabbi Jessica Lott, who joined Hillel over the summer. Lott will lead several services for students, who can also live stream services for different denominations through Hillel International. Even with the changes, she said the spirit of the holidays stays the same.

“The theme of reflecting on who you were last year, and who you will be in the year to come, that holds true,” Lott said. “Thinking about who are the people you need to apologize to, what are the things we can do to make the world a better place. That’s there regardless of where we are.”

Lott said students will have opportunities to use this year’s High Holidays to connect to topics that are relevant to today. These include a podcast on how to apologize, a discussion of this year’s One Book One Northwestern pick “Just Mercy,” and a series titled “From Teshuva to Tzedakah: What the High Holidays Can Teach Us About Repentance, Justice and Anti-Racism.”

As the High Holidays approach, Hillel is also nearing the end of the renovations to its building on 629 Foster St., which began in November of last year. Though the building is not ready for occupancy, Hillel Executive Director Michael Simon said that is now a few weeks away.

“We wouldn’t be ready to open the doors today even if we could, but we’re close, and the way it looks now, it has met or exceeded all of our hopes,” Simon said.

Hillel began renovations to open up the space, increase the natural light and raise the ceiling of the entryway. They wanted to be better able to accommodate larger groups of students and increase the overall efficiency of the space.

The completion of the renovations are “bittersweet,” Simon said, because although they are happy with the way the changes look, they are not currently able to use the space for its original purpose — to bring groups of people together.

“I imagine that when it is safe to do so, there will be a pent up desire to be in community with other people again in great spaces,” Simon said. “And we hope that Hillel will be one of those great spaces for people to congregate.”

Though they cannot enter the building, students will have an opportunity to see the new backyard on Friday if they choose to pick up a pre-ordered, pre-packaged Rosh Hashanah meal. These meals will be offered throughout the High Holidays, or students can be reimbursed for meals they cook themselves.

Weinberg senior Tamar Jacobsohn, the Hillel executive board president, said though the High Holidays will be different this year, she hopes students will engage with Hillel’s offerings so they can observe them how they want.

“Hopefully people are able to have more intimate gatherings with the people they are living with, and Hillel can help them provide food,” she said. “Maybe that, although different, can be a very meaningful holiday experience.”

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Twitter: @em_sakai

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