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Preparing for a Virtual Sanctuary

Ten Suggestions For Creating Your Sacred Space

One of the many challenges of connecting online from our kitchens, living rooms, and other spaces in our homes, is how to shift in and out of regular space when we join in a program, class or service.

There is a Jewish value called hiddur mitzvah – embellishing or beautifying the mitzvah. Throughout the centuries, our people have created beauty and meaning through crafting the most beautiful or expressive versions of our ritual objects and ritual spaces. Those objects can be practical, like a beautiful pair of Shabbat candlesticks, or a hand-stitched afikomen bag, or solely decorative, like wall hangings and other visual creations.

Truly, we will deeply miss seeing each other in person, and enjoying each other’s faces set against all of the beautiful hand-crafted sacred objects our hands have made to shape and beautify our public sacred space – the ark curtains, Torah scroll covers, the eternal light, the Torah reading table and the ark itself, all set off by the incomparable vista of nature through the clear worship space windows.

Let’s take this opportunity, when we gather via Zoom, to each contribute to our virtual sanctuary, and convey that we have entered into and are sharing a spiritual haven with each other.

As we continue to meet virtually, consider engaging in one or more of these steps to create your own sacred space at home:

1. Plan and prepare by spending some time in individual contemplation or family discussion. Consider how many participants will share the device you will be using, and aim for comfort, and for something that works with ease.

2. Create a blessing, say a biblical verse, or set a kavannah- intention for the space or location. See some examples below.

3. Choose and decorate where you will sit. Make it comfy and beautiful, with cushions, special clothes, or scarfs. Adorn it with a festive pillow, or drape it with a tallit, colourful piece of fabric, or scarf. 

4. If your computer needs to stay in its work location, transform its surface or surroundings with a white tablecloth, white runner, or white placemat, and perhaps a vase of flowers.

5. Find meaningful objects to grace your space. On Rosh Hashana include holiday objects like candlesticks and kiddish cup, apples and honey. On Yom Kippur you can place cherished mementoes, family heirlooms, and photos of loved ones to surround you. If you own a shofar, put it where it is visible.

6. If possible, move the computer space back so that you are “watching” the screen more than “manipulating” it. Consider connecting your computer to a TV screen so it feels less like a work device.

7. Try to limit or disconnect auditory distractions. You can turn off your email and text message ping sounds, and/or close your email programme and other apps so you can be fully present during the service.

8. Wear clothing that makes you feel as if you are entering a spiritual space. We’ll maintain our Yom Kippur practice of wearing white.

9. If you own a copy of the KOL HANESHAMAH Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, have it nearby. If you would like to purchase a copy this year, go to this link. If you prefer to download segments, or the entire mahzor, onto your own computer, they are available here. We will also have machzors available for rental (stay tuned for more information). We will try to keep the “screen-sharing” of texts to a minimum, and encourage you to have either the hard copy or a digital version readily available at your end.

10. Finally, do only what works for you, in your setting, and what will enhance your High Holy Day experience.

- Rabbi Liz - with thanks to Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto’s City Shul for inspiration

Some blessings, intentions and verses for your sacred space

Bezeh hamakom tehi berakhah veshalom  |  בְּזֶה הַמָּקוֺם תְּהִי בְרָכָה וְשָׁלוֺם

May there be blessing and peace in this place

-from Birkat Habayit, the blessing for the home


Baruch atah Adonai, hamavdil bayn kodesh lechol   |   בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', הַמַבְדִּיל בֵּין קֹדֶשׁ לְחוֹל

Blessed are You Adonai, who separates between holy and ordinary

-from the havdallah blessing at the end of Shabbat and holy days

Ma tovu ohaleha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael    מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your sacred places, O Israel!

-Numbers 24:5

Ma nora hamakom hazeh   |   מַה-נּוֹרַא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה

How awesome is this place

-Genesis 28: 17

Soundtrack Your Set-Up

Twelve and half minutes of Ma Nora Hamakom Hazeh, a call and answer chant by Jacqueline Westhead with piano and voice

A four and a half minute version arranged by Gayanne Guerin and performed by the Bet Haverim choir, a Reconstructionist congregation in Atlanta, GA

Thu, 2 December 2021