Sign In Forgot Password

Rabbi's Message (April 2021)

When I think about the sad milestone we’ve just passed—the one year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic and the now more than 550,000 deaths it has caused in the United States alone, I ask myself:  What more is there to say about this ongoing tragedy that has changed our lives so dramatically and crushed the dreams and plans of so many, some in more devasting ways than others?  And yet, the subject continues to dominate our conversations, the news, and hold sway over our lives.

In-person synagogue life, like so many other social experiences, has been on hold, and we yearn to gather again.  I am optimistic that this will happen in the coming months, surely with limitations, and some of those limitations may have longevity.  Zoom has been a godsend, keeping our community intact and providing the best we can do for now in terms of “gathering.”  And certainly, livestreaming, Zoom meetings, and hybrid options for classes and services will become a permanent part of the landscape when we return.   But we need to see each other and be in proximity to each other to live the fullness of congregational life.  After all, Judaism is all about community.

Last month, I attended (virtually, of course) the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.  Many pieces of the conference were about looking to the future, imagining together what Jewish life will look life once the pandemic subsides, and figuring out how to get there.  The word “resilience” came up over and over again.  It was pointed out that one of the Hebrew words for “resilience” is “hitchasnut,” the root of which also is the root of the word “to be vaccinated.”  These semantic connections have much to teach us about this moment in which many of us are, or are about to become, vaccinated.

Vaccinations do allow us a certain amount of freedom.  The science has shown that the vaccines are highly effective in keeping us from getting the disease or, if we still somehow contract it, close to 100% effective in keeping us from being hospitalized or dying from the virus.  It is these kinds of numbers that have caused the CDC to rule that it is safe to gather in small numbers in homes with other vaccinated people; to visit (and, yes, hug!) grandchildren without masks, even to resume in-person school with somewhat loosened restrictions (3 feet of separation instead of 6).  And yet, there are new, stronger and more virulent and contagious strains out there that give us pause.  How to navigate these new realities? 

The link between vaccines and resilience seems to me to be the key.   Being vaccinated can give us the confidence to take on some activities that we had previously, wisely eschewed.  But being vaccinated is not a like having a coat of armor or a protective bubble that shields us or others from all harm.  It is a tool that enables us to step forward with some resilience and bounce after a period of confinement.  When we think of resilience or resilient individuals, we think of folks who are able to move forward from difficult and harmful experiences, but to incorporate lessons learned from the challenges of the past.  This is what we vaccinated folks must do now.

We still must exercise caution, especially in our public interactions. Masks, even double masks, handwashing, and keeping our distance are still crucial to public health.  The new strains of the virus seem to be affecting young people the most—those who are likely to not yet be vaccinated.  Our ability to rise as a society from this pandemic will hinge greatly on our ability to control ourselves and not jump into everything we had done previously and the ways we had done it before.  We have learned how to live without crowding into public spaces; to go out less; to cook more of our meals at home; to be in social settings with prudence and caution.  This may be necessary for some time to come if we truly wish a resilient future for ourselves and our entire planet.   Heeding the words of the Pirke Avot: “Who is strong?  The one who controls his/her passions” (4:1) could never be more pertinent than now.

One of the session leaders at the convention, Rabbi Ellen Lewis, who is also a clinical therapist, held a session on stress.  She reminded us that “creative response to loss is what Jewish history is all about.”  When the Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE, the “seeds of survival were already in place” to allow Jewish life to continue through the institution of the synagogue and through a communal commitment to Torah, Avodah (prayer) and G’milut Chasadim (deeds of kindness).  We will go forward as a congregation and as a Jewish community only if we keep this in mind:  That the seeds of our future are already within us through the deeds we performed and the rites we keep as we go through this very challenging time.  Now, we must rely on the lessons we learned in order to discover the resilience we need to go forward.  Jewish life cycle observances, services, social gatherings and education may not look exactly like they did in the past, but this signals growth and change for a better future.  And that is something all of us can embrace.  Kein y’hi ratzon.  May this be God’s will.

Thu, June 24 2021 14 Tammuz 5781