Rosh Hashanah under coronavirus should not be a repeat of Seder night

Rosh Hashanah is a good time to go back to caring.

A family celebrates Rosh Hashanah.  (photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
A family celebrates Rosh Hashanah.
(photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
At around this time in bygone years, social welfare organizations were putting out feelers for dinner invitations for Rosh Hashanah for people who lived alone and had nowhere to go. The common belief was that no one should be left to their own devices on Rosh Hashanah or Passover.
Many synagogues also hosted community dinners at symbolic prices or for free if people couldn’t afford to pay.
That isn’t going to happen this Rosh Hashanah, because we still don’t know whether or not we’ll be in lockdown, and even if we’re not in lockdown, to what extent we’ll be permitted to socialize.
On Seder night, people came out on their balconies in some places and sang Passover songs together, while physically apart. In one neighborhood in Beersheba, local residents set out tables in the street in order to create a spirit of community. It was yet another example of separate but together.
There is no reason why this cannot be done for Rosh Hashanah.
Medical experts have been telling us for months that if we do engage in social activity, it’s safer to do so outside than inside.
So why can’t tables be set up in public parks and gardens, in Jerusalem’s Safra Square and Tel Aviv’s Rabin and Habima squares? In Tel Aviv they can also be set along the whole length of the beachfront promenade. The same goes for Haifa.
There are other places in the country where there are suitable areas for public gatherings in line with Health Ministry regulations.
In New York the mayor has given the green light for school classes to be conducted in parks and gardens, so why not Rosh Hashanah festivities in Israel?
There has already been a lot of publicity about the negative psychological effects of lockdown and isolation.
Coronavirus restrictions, which in turn have led to an economic downturn, have also led to domestic abuse, broken marriages and even murder.
Human beings are, for the most part, social creatures who need to be in the company of others.
A recent article by Daniel Bronstein in Israel Hayom was devoted to mental health organizations in which he quoted Pnina Singer, a volunteer with Eran, which describes itself as “an emotional first aid station” operating 24/7 in several languages. Services are free of charge to people of all ages, faiths, nationalities and race. No one calling in by phone or online is asked to give their name. “My role,” Singer told Bronstein, “is to listen.”
Sometimes that’s all someone weighed down by fears and anxiety needs – especially if they live alone or are cooped up for weeks on end with one to four other family members and no outsiders.
In March, according to the article, Eran received 176,000 calls, of which 3,844 were from people who were suicidal. Since then calls to Eran have doubled and tripled in comparison to the total number in 2019.
Eran’s national director, Dr. Shiri Daniels, said that in the early stages of the pandemic, most of the calls came from people who were afraid of being infected, coupled with the fear of being isolated as a result.
During the past the three months the fear of being alone has become overwhelming, and is closely followed by conflicts within the family and bickering among couples. One in every three calls is related to economic distress and unemployment. The issue of unemployment is even stronger than concerns about economic stability, she said.
That would be natural for anyone used to working with other people and then cut off from being with them and interacting with them. It also deprives them of a daily sense of purpose.
To have anything resembling the Seder night situation of solo celebration could provoke more critical results than the coronavirus. Many people will simply give up and take their own lives.
With this in mind, it is essential to be inspired by the example set in Beersheba on Seder night and to follow it on a national scale during Rosh Hashanah.
There can be central liaison bureaus in every municipality where people who want to participate as hosts or guests can call in and be assigned a table near where they live. Those who cannot afford to bring food should not be ashamed to say so, so that hosts should be made aware in advance by their liaison office contacts.
Once upon a time, people cared about each other in Israel, and not just about politics and backstabbing.
Rosh Hashanah is a good time to go back to caring.