First there was confusion and disbelief (“What is this coronavirus? What does a pandemic mean?”), then the embracing (“Here’s my chance to learn a new language and take care of a sourdough starter”) and the endless memes, then concern as the impact of COVID-19 spread wider and stretched longer.

Six months in, I’ve reached the burnout stage. We’ve been lucky, but the distance from family and the inability to travel, the fear of going to restaurants and other public places, the day-to-day routine that seems to one endless loop…it’s getting to me.

I’m trying to look forward, though, because as Jews, the impending high holidays give us a chance to look back and forward—or at least try to. While we all bemoan what became of 2020—a year whose number looked so lovely it could only glimmer with possibility—as Jews, in just a few weeks we get to turn a new leaf and usher in 5781. Will it erase the deadly virus, isolation, protests and political strife? Obviously not. But it’s something to break the monotony and reset. We’ve got this! We do it every year, pandemic or not.

In a way, Passover was our test run, but almost half a year has passed since then, and I think for a lot of us, the novelty—Zoom seder! Holiday pajamas!—has worn off.

As we get ready for the weirdest New Year’s celebration yet, here are a few “resolutions” that feel fitting:

Be honest about what makes sense
Look at any newspaper or blog (including this one!), and you’ll see how every year is about reinventing the wheel: A new chicken recipe! A new way to braid challah! Try your brisket this way! It’s exciting, really, but this year, I’m tired of my kitchen—heck, my kitchen is tired of me (my couch is, too, but that’s a different story), so pulling out all the stops doesn’t feel right. My goal this year is to go with dishes that keep on giving—a big roast chicken, brisket (or pot roast) or salmon that require very little prep work and make enough to be repurposed into several meals later in the week, even after the holiday is over.

Some ideas:

Nature is nurture
Judaism draws clear lines between holy and ordinary—hence weekdays versus Shabbat and holidays. But these days, when home (normally our weekend/Shabbat/holiday space) is also our work/school/extracurricular space, holidays don’t feel quite so special. Enter nature. Even if tashlich isn’t part of your usual High Holiday practice, give it a try this year. Or how about extending the Sukkot treatment to Rosh Hashanah and eating al fresco? Personally, I no longer live in an apartment with a balcony, but I’m toying with at least one holiday meal done picnic-style in the nearby park.

Spread sweetness
The yearly catch-up and canned food drive at the synagogue, the festive holiday meal with the whole family, the powwow over the bagels at break-fast… Most of those won’t be happening this year, so we have to think a little more creatively about how we can usher in a sweet new year for others and for ourselves while being apart.

Some ideas:

  • Bake mini loaves of challah, honey cake and/or apple cake or put together a festive basket of local apples and honey sticks, and deliver or send them to friends, loved ones, neighbors and anyone else who could use a sweet boost.
  • Drop off care packages for elderly neighbors or local senior centers.
  • Donate to Federation’s Coronavirus Response Fund and partner organizations like Yad Yehuda that are experiencing a surge in demand for food assistance.
  • Prepare food packages and other supplies for social service partners who distribute them to local community members in need.

Forgive yourself first
I’ve always found it so refreshing that the High Holidays recognize what it’s like to be human: We make mistakes, we acknowledge them, we ask for forgiveness and we try to be better—but don’t always succeed. That’s never been more visible than during these trying times. We’re all just doing our best, even if it means making a lot of mistakes along the way. So maybe this year, the best place to start, before asking God and the people around us for forgiveness, is by being just a little gentler with ourselves.

Shana tova! Here’s to a healthy, happy new year. 

Photo by Bethany Ballantyne on Unsplash