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After Covid, I Discovered That My Synagogue is Wherever I Am

Monday, September 19, 2022

By Diane Feen

Last year, the kitchen was my sanctuary during the Jewish Holidays. It seemed strange at first, but if everyone was at home and all the synagogues were closed, who was I to complain?

So, I didn’t.

As Yom Kippur approached, I planned the evening with my computer as my vessel to the almighty. The speakers on my kitchen table acted as the sound system and my wardrobe choice was a pair of boxer shorts and a white T-shirt.

In many ways, my home worship was better than being in person. I didn’t have to worry about people in front of me blocking my view. No one came in late and tried to slide by me mid-prayer, and no one talked relentlessly during the sermon. I didn’t have to pray (and speed) to get to the synagogue in time to find a parking space.

I sang the prayers without self-consciousness. I pranced around my kitchen as if I was in a celebrity dance contest. The prayers pierced my heart with their melodic intensity, and the music lifted my soul with its beauty. God had come to Boynton Beach to serenade me. For a high-maintenance woman, it was a low-maintenance holiday.

But this year was different.

My local synagogue, Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida, finally reopened after two years, and it seemed that I would once again be sharing this auspicious occasion with my fellow congregants. After all, we were vaccinated and there was always room at a nearby university for high volume on High Holidays.

But when I called the temple the week before Yom Kippur, they broke the news to me that they had no room left.

“You had to make a reservation months ago,” a woman said. “We don’t have any space left.”

I was deflated; I was angry. How could this happen?

To me, Jewish holidays are akin to scoring Springsteen tickets—they take precedence over everything. I pushed this news aside until the hour of worship was descending upon me. Just when I was getting ready to begrudgingly open up my computer screen in my kitchen once again, I bolted out of my house in search of something more sacred—the beach.

To me, Jewish holidays are akin to scoring Springsteen tickets; they take precedence over everything.

I watched the moon reflecting off the water, shining its beauty in my direction, and I realized that Mother Nature is just another incarnation of God. The waves ebbed and flowed. I looked around and saw tiny birds scrounging for food (maybe preparing for a fast, I thought).

As the ocean glimmered and the service started on my iPhone, I realized that I had found yet another ad-hoc sanctuary perfect for this observant wandering Jew. The prayers and sacred liturgical music emerged from my iPhone as if on cue.

As I sat on my beach chair, I absorbed the beauty of my surroundings with wonderment. When the rabbi said to stand up for the Torah blessing, I looked around—there was plenty of space. Then came the beating of the breast during the Viddui prayer. I took my right hand and made a fist in time to repent for our shared mortal sins. As I sang with the rabbi and cantor, my excitement soared. I was no longer without a tribe. My tribe was wherever I was. My synagogue was wherever my heart dwelled.

I couldn’t have planned for things to turn out this way. If I had, I probably would have sulked and felt indignant. But I didn’t have the time (or energy) for that type of self-indulgence.

Instead, I discovered once again that God moves very quickly with or without my permission. But with God’s help—and my spirituality—a Jewish holiday can retain its sanctity and splendor no matter what beach, kitchen, or synagogue I find myself in.


Diane Feen is a freelance writer and humor columnist for newspapers, magazines, and websites. Her column—Feen on the Scene—won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists in South Florida. She can be reached at dfyoga@gmail.com