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Lemons to Lemonade 🍋

Friday, 28 August, 2020 - 4:43 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘Rabbi, what are the High Holiday plans’? 

This is by far the most popular question that I am getting these days.


Rosh Hashana is coming nearer.

Three weeks from today on Friday evening September 18th the new year of 5781 from creation will be ushered in.

Yom Kippur follows ten days later on Sunday evening September 27 till Monday September 28th after nightfall.

Rosh Hashana will descend upon the world. The energies in the world will change from 5780 energy to 5781 energy. Nothing can stop that.

Nothing in the world can push off the High Holidays, or any of the Jewish Holidays for that matter. 

This is simply because the essence of a Holiday is its spiritual content. G-d revealed to us in His Torah that on certain calendar dates there is a special and extraordinary G-dly energy that needs to be treated in a deferential way. Literally it is Holy Day – day of holiness. The reason we cannot work on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays is because of the special aura that exists in the world on that day. If we had a higher ‘frequency’ we would actually feel it. Since most of us don’t, we only know about the speciality of the day because the Torah tells us.

We feel that the day becomes special BECAUSE we don’t work and BECAUSE we eat special foods and do special rituals.

The reverse is true. The day is SPECIAL without regard for what we do on that day. It is special because of the innate divine flow that is prevalent at that intersection of time. We do all the special rituals on that day BECAUSE of its intrinsic unique holiness. 

Viruses or any other physical hiccups don’t pose a hindrance to the divine light just as fences and locks can’t keep the Holiness of the Holiday out of its perimeters.

So its crystal clear.

ROSH HASHANA and YOM KIPPUR are COMING. That is an immutable reality. No questions about that.

How are we going to celebrate the Holidays this year?

This is truly a valid question.

One that gives me trouble falling asleep at night.

Not to be too strict. 

Certainly not obsessive. 

Not to be too lenient. 

Definitley not callous. 

I have a brother in law who worked around the clock at his ‘Chevra Kadisha’ burial duties in Brooklyn as insane amounts of people died from Covid-19. It was terrible.

So, I know full well that this is a terrible and dangerous disease.

On the other hand, we in Thailand have been miraculously blessed by the Almighty to have zero local transmission for more than ten weeks now.

Which is why Thailand has cautiously reopened. We are no longer on full lockdown.

From the traffic jams it seems like life has taken a vigorous upward velocity.

Restaurants are open. Bars are open. Malls are humming with life. Symphony orchestras are playing. Cinemas are operating. 

Shouldn’t Jewish religious life also benefit from this Joie de vivre?

With three weeks till Rosh Hashana its time to engage and tackle the issue of how to prepare for the celebration of the High Holidays. 

Once I am doing it, I figured let me share it with you my readers. It may be interesting for you as well.

One thing that has come up again and again is the concept of ‘essential services’. Even during the extremely strict lockdowns, food shops remained open. They are essential. Medical establishments are obviously essential. Alcohol shops? Ammunition shops? That depended on who you ask.

Congregating was banned. What about the right to demonstrate? That seems to have been deemed essential. Indeed, it is understandable that democracy requires certain safeguards. 

So much is hinged on the question of what is deemed essential. There were some difficult decisions to be made regarding that by the government authorities.

When I was a kid my mother taught me ‘one man’s junk another mans gold’. A used couch for a millionaire may be a beautiful centerpiece of the more austere dwelling of a low-income person. This is why sometimes people put used stuff out on the curb and the next morning it isn’t there. 

House of worship? It seems like that did not really get into the ‘essential’ list in most places. And this is why indeed Synagogue activities were very severely curtailed for a long period.

To be honest, I think that houses of worship got a bit of a battering during this pandemic in terms of how non-essential some people considered them. However, since the Torah values LIFE so absolutely, it was clear to the majority of the Rabbinic leaders that when in any sort of doubt regarding the safety and health of the community it is proper to keep the Synagogue closed. One can pray at home. But G-d forbid if a life is lost, it cannot be brought back. 

Thank G-d, here in Thailand things are stable. May the Almighty take us from good to better, here and all over the world. We now have the luxury to consider some form of congregating, responsibly, but still together, over the Holiday period.

What is essential regarding the High Holidays?

Let us take a quick look at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur rituals in terms of their essentiality.

On Rosh Hashanah the one and only Biblical commandment is to hear the blowing of the shofar during the day of Rosh Hashana (this year only on Sunday the second day of RH). 

The only thing you absolutely need in order to celebrate the most essential aspect of Rosh Hashana is a shofar. 

There is still time to get a shofar (contact me if you would like to order one) and learn how to blow it. It can be done in lockdown without any need for any social interaction. Even if you happened to be quarantined, if you had a Shofar and know how to blow it, you can properly and authentically fulfil the requirements of Rosh Hashana.

Next, are the Rabbinic rituals and customs of Rosh Hashana. These include Rosh Hashana dinner on the eve of the Holiday and Rosh Hashana prayers on the days of Rosh Hashana.

While the prayers of Rosh Hashana were composed with the express intention for group praying requiring a minyan, dinner was traditionally always done more privately at individual homes.

To sum it up:

Rosh Hashana has three main items.

Shofar. Can be done with no social interaction.

Prayers. Group prayer is advisable.

Dinner. Hosting at private homes is the traditional way.

The big dinners (last year we had nearly four hundred local Jews at our Rembrandt hotel Rosh Hashana dinner) we usually hold are actually a move away from the original tradition. 

We do them because of the IMMENSE value of togetherness and unity that the community dinners foster. The evening begins with four hundred individuals and by the time the dinner concludes, the individuals have merged into one unified family. It is truly a feeling of elation.

Hmmm. That togetherness probably has some of the characteristics of what they call a ‘super-spreader’ event. This kind of event is exactly what we are not really allowed to do right now, even when there is thank G-d no local transmission, as the Government authorities have instructed us to be cautious about the possibility G-d forbid of a ‘second wave’ virus spread.

Prayers. Communal prayer is the way it was intended to be 

This should definitely be possible in responsible distanced way. Actually, it’s probably the best contribution we can make to good health here and everywhere. Praying for good health. And particularly praying for the elimination of the plague that hounds us.

But, it goes without saying that Prayers with a quorum should only be considered for those who are not considered to be at high risk. For people in what is called ‘high risk’ extra precaution should be taken in consultation with medical experts. 

And certainly only if distancing requirements can be met.

In our case, (seeing that we have a small temporary location for Beth Elisheva as construction on our new Synagogue is still underway), having the right amount of space for communal prayer on Rosh Hashana means securing a suitable venue. 

And realistically, even if we have a proper venue, people are people are people and have different levels of vigilance so perhaps it would be prudent and useful to offer two prayer options. 

A) A full service (but shorter than usual so as to limit ‘saturation’). 

B) A brief condensed prayer gathering of one hour with even stricter distancing and briefer congregating. 

Something that we can definitely do is an outdoors shofar blowing and tashlich service at the Benjasiri Park lake and perhaps at other appropriate venues. 

No communal dinner? 

Yep, sorry, no communal dinner….

That sounds like a negative. Is there anyway to turn it into a positive?

I think that YES, we can take these lemons and make lemonade.

But it takes a willingness to make an effort. 

Lemons don’t become lemonade unless you squeeze them and add sugar. 

I believe that you can take the unique circumstances of this year and bring Rosh Hashana with all of its sweet and blessed spirit, into your very own home.

I am encouraging anyone who has a dining room to consider hosting your own Rosh Hashana dinner. And if you have an open heart, consider inviting others to spend Rosh Hashanah dinner with you and your family.

We can provide the food, delicious kosher food, if you provide the venue.

I will also happily provide the content of how to meaningfully celebrate your Rosh Hashana dinner with song and authentically Jewish discussion. We can share the content, and then you can be the inspiring leader of at your Rosh Hashanah table.


As we get closer to Rosh Hashana I will send out a link for Rosh Hashana dinner orders to be picked up from JCafe or delivered to your abode.

As to prayers? 

We will have a minyan please G-d. 

For Rosh Hashana.

And for Yom Kippur.

We are currently in discussion with some venues that should suit our needs for the Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur prayers. More details to follow.

In the meantime, 

With blessings of a Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS In order to plan properly I will please G-d send out a questionnaire during the week,  asking for your feedback about being a Rosh Hashana host, finding out if you need help in finding someone to host you, your preference for attending prayers and your general comments on how you think we can enhance the High Holiday celebrations even during these challenging times.

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