Jews are a resilient people. We’ve had no choice, having lived through exile, persecution, pogroms, and Holocaust — millennia of unrelenting anti-Semitism.
And that resiliency, that ability to withstand, persevere, even thrive is an invaluable trait in these treacherous times when we are separated from loved ones, fearful of illness, and so many people are suffering from profound economic hardship and systemic racial injustice.
It is times like this that call to mind a quote I turn to when feeling weak or uncertain:
“When you have no choice, at least be brave.”
Yes, these are difficult days. Not the summer we had yearned for. So many of us had hoped that by staying at home, strictly observing sheltering in place directives, we would flatten the curve and “beat this thing.” For many of us, it felt patriotic. We weren’t the first responders risking our lives in hospitals. We weren’t essential workers, driving buses or stocking supermarket shelves, but in our small way, we were doing our part. We were helping too.
But sadly, bowing to political and growing economic pressure, politicians caved, and the country opened too fast. Infection rates are spiking all over the place.
Also rising are the depression rates of my friends. Have all our modest personal efforts to fight the pandemic been for naught?
One girlfriend admitted she has been breaking down into tears two-three times a day. She thought she was finally going to start seeing her grandson, but realizes that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. She’s carrying on with her work, sitting through Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, but still, she’s sad, frightened, and lonely.
Another friend had planned on hosting a small dinner party for her husband’s 70th birthday — all of us gathering outside, social distancing while celebrating the occasion. But now she’s decided not to risk it. She too is feeling the pain of life only partially lived, isolated from friends and community.
We are social creatures and COVID-19 isn’t just destroying lives and the economy. It’s robbing us of our energy and joy. And that’s where the need for resiliency comes in.
I never was a cheerleader, but it seems more important than ever that we all dig deep within and find things that bring us pleasure and strength to get through these bleak days.
“If you carry your own lantern, you will endure the dark.”
Rabbi Deborah Waxman in her article, “Keeping the Faith: Resilience in the Jewish Tradition,” wrote this:
“The Talmud teaches that we should say 100 blessings a day. We could see this mandate as legalistic and oppressive, or we could see it as an invitation to engage in ongoing gratitude practice, to raise up the interconnectivity and abundance that undergird our daily lives even when our days are filled with challenge and loss.”
I come from a family of fighters — literally. My father boxed professionally for a short time. He said he wasn’t very good. His explanation — short arms caused by smoking cigars at an early age. But cigars or no cigars, my father really was a fighter. He had to drop out of school in sixth grade to help support his large family during the Depression. Still, he was the best-read person I ever knew. He could quote Shakespeare and Plato and debate the fine points of law with his two attorney sons. When illness robbed him of his eyesight, he still worked. He struggled, but he worked. My God, the man was the definition of the word “resilience.”
Once, when I suffered a bitter professional disappointment and said something about quitting, my father told me, “Galatzes don’t quit.” He said those words to me on his deathbed. What a legacy! It wasn’t pressure. It was pure inspiration. To this day, when I’m dispirited and want to throw in the towel, I draw on his strength and resilience, get back in the ring, and carry on the good fight — whatever the cause, whatever the task.
And in these days of delayed plans and dreams, here’s a final quote — one I know my eternally optimistic father would have approved of:
“Let’s go to the circus tomorrow, if — God willing — we’re alive;
and if not, let’s go Tuesday.”
Leo Rosten’s Treasury of Jewish Quotations