A Day in the Life

When I was a kid, back in the days dinosaurs roamed the earth, a popular first-week-of-elementary school exercise was to write a composition on “what I did on my summer vacation.” In fact, I actually wrote such a composition in a column not that long ago. In a similar vein, this column will be what I did on what turned out to be a most memorable day, January 6, 2021 — a day comprised of nationally historic events meriting a six-column, three-line, mammoth-font headline on the front page of the next day’s New York Times; everyday occasions changed a bit by Covid; and, for me, a surprise last-minute (truly) pidyon haben.

12:05 a.m. Depressed that CNN’s last report is that both Republicans in the Georgia senatorial races have slight leads. I so very much want the Democrats to control the Senate. There’s still hope, though, because a large number of uncounted votes remain from strong Democratic-leaning counties. Regarding the presidential election, Vice President Pence still is being pressured to subvert the Constitution while performing his duties at the joint Congressional session to count the electoral votes, and has not yet publicized his intentions. I go to bed dejected and concerned.

7:25 a.m. Wake up to the news that both Georgia Democratic senatorial candidates are leading and likely to win. Shortly thereafter, I hear that Pence issued a letter stating that he would, in fact, follow the Constitution’s mandates regarding his limited role at the electoral vote counting.

10 a.m. Went to my first physical therapy session to help strengthen my right leg. Hit it off with the physical therapist who was easy to work with and very competent. Both of us are masked, though social distancing isn’t possible.

Noon. Attend my continuing course on Psalms over Zoom with Rabbi Hayyim Angel. A few minutes after it begins, my cell phone rings with a call from a rabbi I’m friendly with, but by the time I answer the call’s gone. Don’t bother checking voice mail because Tehillim beckon. By the time class ends, I’ve forgotten about the call and the need to check voicemail.

1 p.m. Start watching the joint Congressional session. I’m pretty knowledgeable about the constitutional and U.S. Code provisions governing counting and objections, so I want to see what actually will happen.

1:06 p.m. Get another call from my rabbi friend, moments after I sit down to watch the proceedings. “Sorry to bother you,” he says apologetically, “but I have an unusual question. Can you do a pidyon haben (Redemption of the Firstborn ceremony (Numbers 18:15-16)) for a former student of mine?” As a kohen, I love presiding over that ceremony, and I certainly have plenty of free time. So I answer “Sure. When will it be?” expecting sometime within the next week or two. “This afternoon,” he replies. I’m still in my PT clothing but, gulp, I agree nonetheless. I call the father, discuss some details, and we schedule the ceremony for 3:30 that afternoon at a nearby location.

1:15 p.m. Return to watching the congressional session, which soon adjourns due to an objection to the Arizona electors. I then begin watching the Senate debate on that objection. Interspersed with the hearing are reports that the protesters at the Ellipse rally marched to the Capitol, morphed into rioters grappling with police on the Capitol steps, and then morphed again into insurrectionists climbing the Capitol’s walls, breaking windows, and invading the building.

2:22 p.m. Because of these domestic terrorists, the Senate adjourns its debate, Pence is escorted out of the Senate chamber for safety, and I have to tear myself away from the TV to get ready for the pidyon haben. Showered and properly dressed, with a bow tie of course (my mother would be proud), I resume watching for several minutes until I have to leave.

3:15-4:20 p.m. Preside over the pidyon haben, which starts a bit late because of a last-minute diaper change, which, as a grandfather of a brand new baby boy just a week plus older than the baby being redeemed, I understand completely. (Yes, I do change diapers.) The ceremony, held in the large, otherwise unoccupied lounge in one of Teaneck’s new apartment buildings, was attended by me, two parents, three friends, a small group of relatives and friends on Skype, and beautiful baby boy Elliot. Everyone is socially distanced and masked (except Elliot), and my priestly blessing was delivered contactless. The only food was the grape juice I brought for the traditional blessing of boreh pri hagefen.

4:30 p.m. Back home, I watch on TV as the terror increases. Read with horror the president’s tweet calling the insurrectionists “great patriots,” and then watch, with increased horror, his one-minute video, in which he refers to these criminals as “very special” people, whom he loves, and whose pain and hurt he knows. (I know I told many that my column a few weeks ago was hopefully my last Trump column. Unfortunately, life intervened.) Continue watching television coverage while preparing for dinner with my wife, Sharon, two of my children, and brother.

7:30 p.m. Sit down to dinner, with Sharon and me at one end of our long dining room table, my two kids at the other end, and my brother at a small table in the living room. Other than when we eat, we’re masked. We mainly discuss family matters, including my mother’s yahrtzeit which we commemorated on Monday, but keep coming back to the breaking national news events of the day.

9:15 p.m. Dinner ends and I start watching Congress again, first the resumption of the Senate debate on Arizona and then the resumption of the electoral ballot counting.

11:59 p.m. The counting continues as the day ends (with one more frivolous objection still to come due to the arrogance, callousness, and tone-deafness of Josh Hawley, whose clenched-fist salute in solidarity with the mob on its way to assault Congress disgraced the Senate and the state of Missouri ). I stay up through long hours of the night into January 7th, though, to watch Vice President Pence declare, at 3:39a.m., Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the newly elected president and vice president of the United States.

It was a very long day, with negatives (the distressing electoral possibilities as the day began, the deeply disturbing visions of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, though this time by domestic, rather than foreign, enemies, and the eruption of a president-incited rebellion) and positives (a good start to PT, some Torah learning, a pidyon haben, a lovely family meal, and, as the day ended, a very closely divided but Democratic Senate, Biden and Harris on a clear path to formal victory, and the suppression of the president-incited rebellion). It was a mixture of the quotidian, major breaking news, and an unexpected “payment” for my services as kohen.

Just a day in the life.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is a long-time resident of Teaneck. His work has also appeared in various publications including Sh’ma magazine, The New York Jewish Week, The Baltimore Jewish Times, and, as letters to the editor, The New York Times.
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