Perspectives on the 2020 High Holy Days – Part 3

This post is part of our series: Perspectives on the 2020 High Holy Days. (Click here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)

In this post, we hear from members of the AJRCA community about how their personal preparation for the Holidays was different this year.

The variety in the responses we received was incredible, and largely depended on the approach to the Holidays as a whole.  Here is a sampling:


All the prep happened for months prior. We started planning in May. Since we pre-recorded, the amount of post production and watching clips, gathering videos was insane. The day if I relaxed and watched every other temples service except for my own. That was strange and also kind of wonderful.

Cantor Lisa Peicott (’18)
Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, California

Had to prepare much more, much earlier to have everything ready. It felt like doing HHDs 3 times – once prepping it and recording parts, once doing big dress rehearsals, and then doing the main services for real as well.

Abby Gostein, Cantorial Student
Temple Beth Shalom, Austin, Texas

During the summer I edited an online machzor, turned it into a pdf, reduced the number of honors, reduced the number of aliyot (Rosh Hashanah was Shabbat, from 7 to 2, and Yom Kippur from 6 to 2). I did no group aliyot, only couples who were on the board or headed committees or who had been extremely active during the year. Readings were greatly reduced as well from about 7 or 8 per service to 2 or 3. I worked with a videographer, taping each service together with a cantorial soloist on zoom from Toronto. Then created a very detailed order of service showing where to insert a reading or aliyah or photo or page in the machzor. i worked with the editor afterward correcting and adjusting the order and rhythm of the sections of the services. When it came time for the services, I sat home and watched!!! I also got to watch colleagues at other synagogues. That was a first!

Rabbi Alicia Magal (’03)
Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, Sedona, Arizona

EVERYTHING changed, dramatically (time frames – choir and all musical arrangements/decisions recorded in July), type of preparation, how my time and energies were used – the amount of time preparing cue sheets alone was huge – messages delivered, how services were conducted, thinking more about production aspects, thinking more about connecting community and preparation way in advance (we held several drive-throughs for congregants to collect supply bags).

Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman (’05)
Congregation Kehillah, Phoenix, Arizona

We had to be creative and open to “bending” our Halachic rules with the use of electronics. I created an outline of the services and provided appropriate breaks that were logical and beneficial to not only myself but to the attendees as well. Usually breaks every hour or at the end of each service section if that section was less than one hour. A short break was taken after Mincha on YK and right before Ne’eilah. Another short break after Ne’eilah and before Ma’ariv and the Shofar blowing at the end. All in all, this was well received and we had a good turnout.

We had to set up computers, microphones, a video projector, PA systems to handle those on Zoom. We needed a person to run the computer to “Admit” the holiday attendees. We had to ask to “Unmute” if they participated in the service. All this, took lots of preparation and several practice services so that it comes off in a polished manner.

Cantor Bruce Shapiro (’17) and Congregation President Bruce Rouman
Congregation Beth Shalom, Corona, California

I really felt like I didn’t have a holiday. Because of my administrative role at my home synagogue, combined with the difficulty of scheduling my own recording sessions for both congregations, the entire month of Elul was one long nightmare. There was no time or energy for mental preparation or even physical preparation (music rehearsal, etc). On Rosh Hashanah, I led services on Zoom and then watched the YouTube services from my home congregation (hours after they premiered). On Erev Yom Kippur, I still hadn’t decided yet if I was fasting for Yom Kippur (I usually do). On the actual day of Yom Kippur, I led services on Zoom and then ended up on a phone call with my boss and had to make some changes to the schedule posted on the website. This disaster I had to deal with completely destroyed any kavanah I might have still retained at that point.

Sarah Bollt, Cantorial Student
Congregation Or Chadesh (A) and Institute of Judaic Services and Studies (B) Tucson, Arizona

I learned and/or improved upon many technical skills such as setting up a home studio, recording and mixing audio, recording and editing videos, sound set up, equipment set up, etc. I had the opportunity to work with and collaborate with many volunteers in our community (choir members, a video editor, prayer leaders), and figure out how to do that effectively over Zoom. I was also my own accompanist on keyboard, which gave me an opportunity to learn the melodies and prayers more deeply than I ever have. I found the process to be engaging and rewarding.

Jacqueline Rafii, Cantorial Student
Shomrei Torah Synagogue, West Hills, California

My preparation was quite different. Much of my work was done in advance, in the preparation of the Treasure Maps and supplemental readings, as well as the writing of a drash and the pre-service offerings. The mental and emotional preparation was also quite different, and the experience of leadership and holy day observance felt more fragmented.

Rabbi Diane Elliot (’06)
Aquarian Minyan and Torah of Awakening/ Urban Adamah, Berkeley, California

It was a long process that began in May with LA County, and included LAPD, District 11 Councilman Mike Bonin, Senior Lead Officers, City Attorneys and more.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro (’10)
The Open Temple, Venice, California

Thanks so much to all who shared their reflections. Please share your own HHD experiences in the comments area below!

Click here to read the next post in the series — focused on respondents’ key takeaways from this year’s activities, and a full list of the posts in this Series can be found here.

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