If you want to avoid services — or simply want more ways to observe — several holiday traditions lend themselves well to being done outside of synagogue. Tashlich, the symbolic casting away of sins on Rosh Hashana, is usually done outside by a body of water even when a global health crisis is not ongoing. But with many parks limiting group sizes even outdoors, synagogues are including birdseed (the more eco-friendly version of the traditional bread crumbs) and Tashlich instructions in holiday baskets being sent to members. HighHolidays@Home also offers downloadable prayers and guided meditations, and you can throw pebbles in whatever nearby water is available, including a kiddie swimming pool. Another option: Writing down your sins on rice paper, which dissolves in water. (On Amazon, it’s often referred to as “spy paper.”)
There is also the Rosh Hashana Seder, which is more like an elevated Shabbat dinner than the often lengthy Passover Seder. (“Seder” simply means order.) If you’ve never heard of this tradition (which is mentioned in the Talmud), you’ve already held a mini version of one if you’ve ever dipped apples in honey for a sweet new year, said Vanessa Ochs, a rabbi and professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.
Before Rosh Hashana dinner is served — or tapas-style during the meal — you eat fruits or vegetables linked to a particular Jewish value or wish this time of year, like black-eyed peas or fenugreek to symbolize blessings increasing. Online you can find dozens of suggested ingredients, many involving puns on Hebrew, Aramaic and, these days, English. (Some people have raisins on celery — “a raise in salary.”) Feel free to riff: Rabbi Ochs, dislikes having a fish head (symbolizing the head of the year, and also being a leader) at her table, so she substitutes Swedish fish candy.
Finally, keep in mind that “observe” is relative — anything goes if it feels right to you.
“We’re really encouraging people to take the core of the holiday and do what Jews have done for 3,000 years and be creative,” Rabbi Jacobs said. He said you can go for a walk and think about the message of the holidays, or have a conversation with a friend or family member about beginning anew. You could also perform acts of kindness toward people who are confined because of the health crisis — for example, taking “exceedingly good care” of an older neighbor, he said.
Some families are forming pods for services, with the 10 adults required for a minyan, or quorum (with all the associated children). Aviva Pearlman, a sixth-grade teacher in Denver, is borrowing a Torah from her synagogue, prayer shawls and books (and a shofar!) from friends and hosting a few families, all masked up, in her backyard.
Ms. Pearlman, who this year switched to teaching online, said doing the High Holy Days virtually felt like one screen too many: “I really wanted to come together and meet with other people in three dimensions.”