The start of the Jewish New Year— Rosh Hashanah— begins at sundown, but the complications of 2020 continue to affect celebrations.

Many USC students usually celebrate Rosh Hashanah in a filled synagogue reciting prayers or at home with family and friends, enjoying traditional cuisine, and lighting candles. This year, however, students struggle with not being able to celebrate in a conventional manner due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

USC sophomores Lainey Rothschild and Urban Seiberg and Chabad Jewish Center at USC Director Rabbi Jeff Wagner shared their feelings towards the holiday this year and how they plan to celebrate safely.

In a normal year, an observer of the holiday might attend temple Friday evening and Saturday morning, celebrating with a communal dinner and services. While current Los Angeles County social distancing protocols forbid such events, Wagner shared how the Chabad Jewish Center is working to provide for its Jewish community.

“We offer outdoor, distanced in-person services and meals for those who are nearby and want to participate with masks and health checks,” Wagner said. “Then we’re also offering to-go so people can come by and pick up their Rosh Hashanah dinner to-go as well as a kit with some prayers and honey cake. The traditional Rosh Hashanah stuff.”

Both Rothschild and Seiberg plan to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and introduce traditions to their roommates, who are not Jewish but represent their “chosen family” to spend the cherished time with. Traditional food for Rosh Hashanah features apples and honey— symbols for a sweet new year.

Aside from dinner, Rothschild and Seiberg plan to use FaceTime and Zoom to perform prayers with their families on the East Coast. Seiberg’s father sent her prayer books from home so that she can continue to honor her faith.

“When I was much, much younger, my family would go to the family services for the holiday and it would be a big communal event,” Seiberg said. “We would have dinner with our fellow friends from temple beforehand, and then we would all go to the services together and we’d have lunch and all of that stuff together as a big temple community.”

Seiberg, who celebrated Rosh Hashanah with USC Hillel last year, remains optimistic heading into the Jewish New Year. She feels the message of Rosh Hashanah— asking that next year will be better— translates to the current situation of COVID-19.

Wagner agrees, viewing Rosh Hashanah as a “renewal.”

“Especially in a year with such turmoil and with so much stress, so many problems for so many, there’s something really incredible about starting fresh and being able to look to the future with a new optimism,” Wagner said.