All of us are saddened and disappointed by the news that Hazzan Komrad’s continuing cluster headaches following her surgery last summer have made it necessary for her to step back from High Holiday services this year. We all benefit from her beautiful voice and her presence and kavvanah as she leads us in prayer. As the rabbi, it is a particular pleasure to work with her due not only to her mastery of the liturgy and its various modes but also because we have developed a good rapport and an understanding of the needs of the community. While it is true that the content of the High Holiday services is fairly fixed, it is also true that minor adjustments can occur based on time constraints or the reaction and mood of those present. As a highly-skilled Hazzan with years of experience, Hazzan Komrad is able to make those adjustments instinctively. I’ve enjoyed leading services with her for the past nine High Holiday seasons and look forward to leading with her again in 2022/5783. We all wish her a refuah shleimah and successful treatment as she goes into the hospital in a few days.
While no one can “replace” our Hazzan it is necessary for us to “substitute” for her. I am working with the Ritual Committee on doing just that in a satisfactory way and we hope to announce our High Holiday plans within the next few days.
Our High Holiday planning is, of course, also complicated by the ongoing COVID situation in our country and the spread of the Delta variant. I assume that everyone in our congregation is vaccinated except for those who are unable to get the vaccine (whether by virtue of a medical condition or being under age 12). Nevertheless if you are not vaccinated please get the vaccine as soon as possible. If you have friends or relatives who have declined the vaccine please do everything in your power to persuade them to get it.
As of this writing we are still planning to have fully hybrid services for the High Holidays. This means that you can attend in person (assuming you are fully-vaccinated or have a certified medical exemption) or on Zoom. It also means that if you have a “speaking part” such as reading Torah or haftarah, an aliyah or an English reading, you may do your part in person or on Zoom. If you have been honored with an ark opening, as you might surmise that can only be done in person but we are planning on keeping ark openings to a bare minimum this year. If the COVID situation worsens to the point where either government regulations or our own sense of what is prudent require it, we can always “pivot” to a Zoom-only service but it’s premature to make that decision right now. Of course, if your own sense of what is safe or wise dictates that you remain at home and participate over Zoom, that is what you should do.
You are probably aware that yesterday afternoon the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to reimpose an indoor mask mandate for publicly accessible spaces which will remain in effect until we once again have seven consecutive days of low or moderate community transmission of COVID. We are obligated to follow this mandate under secular law as well as under the halacha of dina d’malchuta dina which makes it a religious obligation to follow secular law. So if you are attending Shabbat morning services or if you are coming into the building for any other reason, you are required to wear a mask. The mask mandate does not apply to people working in their own offices nor does it apply to someone engaged in public speaking or public performance as long as they are at least six feet away from anyone else. So the person leading services may choose not to wear a mask while actively leading but otherwise everyone is required to wear a mask starting tomorrow.
Rosh Chodesh Ellul is Sunday and Monday. During Ellul, we conclude our services with Psalm 27 before the last Mourner’s Kaddish. It is also traditional to sound the shofar at the end of weekday morning services and since we only have weekday morning minyan on Sundays, we also have the custom of sounding it at the end of evening minyan (although this is a custom and if we are unable to do so on a particular day it’s no big deal). We begin this on the first day of Ellul which is Sunday night and Monday since Saturday night and Sunday is actually the last day of Av.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian