In the era of social distancing, Kenyon’s Jewish community members are faced with a particular challenge: How to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two holidays which revolve around group celebration, while also staying safe?
“Generally, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you want to gather together for services in the temple. You read the Torah, say blessings together and connect with friends and family,” Caleb Newman ’24, a first-year Jewish student, said.
Jewish Chaplain and Director of Hillel Marc Bragin, who has been working at Kenyon since 2006, sees a way to create new opportunities while celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the time of COVID-19. “I am, of course, sad we can’t gather together,” Bragin said. “But I’m also really happy for this new opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. And that’s what Rosh Hashanah is really all about: looking at things from a new perspective.”
While this year’s celebrations have certainly looked different from the large communal dinners and services of past years, Bragin has found other ways for the Kenyon community to celebrate the holidays together. For instance, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Bragin offered a Zoom service. Then on Rosh Hashanah, Bragin organized a socially distanced Tashlikh ritual at the Kokosing River — where worshippers symbolically threw away their sins by tossing bread into the moving water.
Bragin had faculty members make short videos about the holidays as well, reading both ancient texts and singing traditional songs. He then compiled the videos together and sent them out on Rosh Hashanah for students to watch. Additionally, Bragin passed out apples and honey on Middle Path, wishing students a happy new year and connecting the community in a socially distanced manner.
Bragin noted how the pandemic has actually helped bring people together. “Currently, there are so many challenges, obstacles and detours that we as a society and community are working through. But we work through them together, as one,” Bragin said. “This is a good challenge to look at how we connect with one another without being face to face.”
Rothenberg Hillel House’s current managers, Sofia Wilson ’23 and Sofia Markey ’23, knew that they would have to work to overcome the obstacles posed by COVID-19, particularly when the High Holy Days came around. As they pondered how they would go about holding these ceremonies, they made sure to keep in mind Bragin’s focus for the year: accessibility. “Hillel is for all of Gambier, not just students.” Markey said. “People really want to feel connected, as part of a community.”
The managers praise Bragin’s ability to create a familiar atmosphere for all who attend, despite the different backgrounds that each individual brings with them. Although she comes from a different sect of Judaism than what is practiced at Hillel, Wilson admits that the environment that has been created “reminds [her] of being home, singing with [her] family and eating with them.” Non-Jewish attendees of services and holidays can find their own individual benefit, as Hillel offers, as Wilson said, “a place where you can learn about Judaism, even if you don’t practice it, which I think is really special.”