Rosh Hashanah is looking pretty different this year

"It’s been the most difficult part of the pandemic for me, to not be able to see my family. "

Normally, Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, is a time of family gatherings, special meals, and sweet foods.

COVID-19 has different plans this year.

Due to physical distancing restrictions brought about by the pandemic, the two-day celebration will have to take a different form than many are used to. That includes 89-year-old Esther Shilling, who hasn’t missed a Rosh Hashanah celebration yet. “This is the first time in my life I haven’t been with my entire extended family for Rosh Hashanah,” Shilling told Barrie 360. “It’s been the most difficult part of the pandemic for me, to not be able to see my family.

“Normally I’d have a houseful of more than 30 people,” she added. “My children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, great-nieces and great-great nieces and nephews. It will be very different this year. It doesn’t feel like a celebration.”

“I’ve still prepared as if everyone is coming. Some habits are hard to break. I guess I’ll just be eating leftovers for months,” she concluded.

Helen Silverstein, the head of the Simcoe County chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, says she’d normally be well into celebration preparations by now, were it a normal year. “At this point, I would be absolutely exhausted, with flour on my clothes from head to toe,” Helen told Barrie 360 over the phone, detailing the long list of foods she’d have prepared for family in years previous. “My six kids and seven grandchildren would be driving up to spend the weekend with us. But not much of that is happening right now.”

Instead, Helen is making the best of it. “It’s going to be a lovely romantic dinner with my husband and myself,” she said. “Because it’s Yom Tov which means a holiday and because it’s Friday night, which is our Sabbath, we would be lighting candles, so it’ll be a romantic dinner with candlelight.”

She adds it helps to be connected to family digitally, adding she expects her grandkids will sing to her over Zoom. “I think the technology has become so normalized and part of my everyday life, I think it just has positive aspects, bringing us together.”

Am Shalom Congregation plans to hold a virtual High Holiday service on Friday evening, starting at 7:30. Visit their website for more information.