A lonely man of faith

A painting by Chasidic artist Rabbi Zalman Kleinman depicts a Chasid absorbed in prayer. (courtesy)
A painting by Chasidic artist Rabbi Zalman Kleinman depicts a Chasid absorbed in prayer. (courtesy)

Although ashamed to admit it, physical distancing has meant more TV time for my children. We have perfected our British accents thanks to Peppa Pig. We have gone on emotional rollercoasters with Daniel Tiger. We’ve adopted Elsa and Anna as our own daughters. And, we have found great flexibility with Cosmic Kids Yoga. The TV allows me to try to keep afloat with work, house-cleaning, meal preparation, mental / physical fatigue, and other related tasks. 

Over the past few days, while watching TV, my daughter has yelled from the other room, “Abba! Come sit with me!” Exasperated, I respond with, “I’m in the middle of something,” or, “I’ll be there in a moment,” while, thinking to myself, “TV is a solo endeavor, why can’t she just watch alone?!” Ultimately, dishes can wait, and I, with mixed-emotions, join her. 

Pondering this “new” turning TV into a team activity, I realized that she’s seeking to ameliorate the same feeling that has developed in me: Loneliness. Although in this intense ‘round-the-clock, family-filled, COVID-19 sequester, I am never “alone,” a deep sense of loneliness has emerged in my Judaism. I am a lonely man practicing faith. 

In many ways, even among a ציבור (community), davening is a solo act. Yet, as I prepare for tefilot these days, a deep sadness comes over me. Each day I look in the metaphorical “rearview mirror” and begrudgingly accept that I am one day farther from when I last davened with a community. Am I fulfilling my obligations? Yes. I don tallit and tefillin. I open my well-worn siddur and carve out time for Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv. On Shabbat I attempt to find joy in singing various tefilot. Yet, when I look right, left, and all around, although Hashem may be found, my ציבור  cannot. 

When I emerge from my tefilot and try to meet the challenges of another day of physically distancing, I cannot help but acknowledge, “I am lonely.” As Rav Soloveitchik said, “Let me emphasize, however, that by stating ‘I am lonely’ I do not intend to convey to you that I am alone. I, thank God, do enjoy the love and friendship of many.” I have a wonderful family. I have an active community that, amid all the chaos in the world, performs so many acts of hesed. I enjoy technology that allows for conversations and connectedness. Objectively, though I am not alone, I remain lonely. 

Like my daughter, I want to call out, “Come sit with me!” I want my tefillah to turn from a solo to a team activity. The presence of others performing a similar activity – whether we engage or not – provides a sense of connectedness that removes the shroud of loneliness. 

I look forward to the days when my voice is joined by others around me. I welcome the days when we re-enter our synagogues, our schools, and must no longer distance. In my lonely prayers, I humbly ask that our days will be renewed as of old.

חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

About the Author
Jonathan S. Hack received his Ph.D. in political science from The George Washington University and rabbinical ordination. He is the Program Officer for the Anxieties of Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council in New York.
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