I love the High Holidays—the month when we turn our full attention to G‑d, reflect upon our renewed commitment to becoming our best selves, and spend time with our family and friends.

Except this year. This year is different. This year there is the pandemic.

I’m an older woman, living alone, with health issues, and for those like me, this year will be unlike any before. I'll be observing the holidays at home, by myself.

I’m used to davening at my local Chabad center, listening as the chazzan (cantor) does the “heavy lifting” of reciting the prayers, allowing my mind to wander at will, letting the rabbi make the service meaningful with his commentary, listening as the shofar is blown.

During services, I was more like a passenger than a driver. I got to look out the window and enjoy the scenery because I didn't have to drive the car. This year everything will be different.

But does different have to mean bad? Can’t something be different and good? I like to eat coffee ice cream every day, but if there’s none in the freezer, I'll eat vanilla instead. And maybe that vanilla will be a delicious change.

So, I decided to look for new ways to make this year fresh and exciting. And truly, shouldn’t we be doing this every year? Each year we stand before G‑d, asking Him to forgive our shortcomings, asking Him to view us favorably, asking Him to give us another year to grow and improve. Should this ever be done on autopilot?

It’s true, we are living in difficult times. But Chassidic tradition teaches that all experiences - even the difficult ones - are opportunities to reveal the goodness that exists within everything. G‑d put goodness in all His creations, but we have to choose to look for it. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but it’s always our choice.

This year I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone by circumstances I can’t control. Even if I wanted to, I can’t go on autopilot. I can’t sit back, enjoy the ride, and let someone else drive the car. I’m behind the wheel. But being the driver means that I’ll be in control of the journey. And that, I believe, is where the goodness lies within this very different holiday season. I will control the journey, and I am choosing to take the scenic route.

Slow Down and Sing

When I’m in shul, I have to rush through the prayers just to keep up. I’m looking forward to going at my own pace and taking time to think about what I’m reading. I’ve also started listening to musical renditions of the prayers we sing (you can find excellent ones on Chabad.org) to learn the melodies.

Listen: Brush up on familiar High Holiday Melodies and Cantorial Classics

Toot My Own Horn

I’ve called my local Judaica store and bought a shofar. My very own shofar! Blowing it is not as hard as I'd thought and I have the entire month of Elul to practice. By Rosh Hashanah, I'll be ready to crown the King!

Read: How to Choose a Shofar

Enjoy Good Books

It will be hard not being with my friends during the festive meals, and nothing can replace that, but I'll make sure I have good company in the form of uplifting Jewish books. I've collected many excellent ones over the years, and my bookcases make me feel like the greatest Jewish minds in history are in the room with me, ready to teach and converse. The Lubavitcher Rebbe may join me for lunch, Maimonides for dinner, and the Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chassidism) for coffee the next morning. And of course, I'll have books of Chassidic stories to spice up the meal. With guests like these, I'll naturally want to put on nice clothes and set the table with my best things.

Print: Rosh Hashanah Messages, Insights, and Stories


Yes, this year will be different. I’ve been given my driver’s license and handed the car keys. I can't wait to get out on the road, open the windows, and enjoy the ride. May your own journey this season be healthy, smooth, and meaningful.