Haviva Ner-David
post-denominational inter-spiritual rabbi, mikveh specialist, spiritual counselor, author
Featured Post

Dreaming in the time of Corona

There is something absolutely stunning about the fact that all of humanity now is suffering from the same threat. This is life.

This was what I dreamed a few nights ago, as the trees swayed in the howling wind, the rain pounded against my window, and my life partner, Jacob, lay sick in bed:

I am in the Manhattan subway at the bottom of a huge flight of stairs. I look up desperately to the top of the steps where there is fresh air and light, but I know it will be almost impossible for me, with my muscular disorder, to make it up such a steep flight of stairs. I reach out to grab the handrail, but my hand lands on a smushed dead black cat. I realize the entire handrail is covered with smushed dead cats. It’s the coronavirus. I look in my bag for sterile wipes to clean my hands, but I am out of wipes. I am going to die in the Manhattan Subway system of Corona.

I wake up.

As I was falling asleep that night, COVID-19 lay heavy on my heart. Reports were coming in that all schools were closing indefinitely, but at the very least until after Passover – which meant over a month at least of no framework for my children. The number of people ill with the virus in Israel was rising quickly, and it sounded as if within days the whole country would be shutting down. I am in the high risk category for this virus, as my breathing is compromised by my FSHD (the name of my genetic degenerative muscular disorder), so the thought of catching the virus was scary, but so was the thought of my life being turned upside down.

Earlier that evening, Jacob and I had gone to say goodbye to the young man from the pre-army mechina program on our kibbutz that we’ve been hosting as his “kibbutz family.” He is severely physically challenged from a muscular disease (different from mine), so much so that he requires help 24/7 to perform all simple daily tasks. He was leaving the mechina, as it was not safe for him to be around so many people now. I wondered for how long we’d be saying goodbye. Our small world was changing rapidly and with no way to know what the next day would bring.

As we walked back to our house, Jacob told me he was feeling ill — his stomach — and he retired to our bedroom for the rest of the night while I drove our 16-year-old son to roller hockey practice as the sky turned orange, a film of dirt covered everything in sight, and a huge storm rolled in.

I slept in one of our empty beds that night. (We are not empty nesters yet, but slowly the chicks are leaving, one by one. Also changes, but ones we knew were coming. As opposed to what was happening now.) I was convinced Jacob had contracted the COVID-19 virus, and it would just be a matter of time before I and the kids would get it, too. Signs of apocalypse were in the air. And then I dreamed what I did.

The next day, Jacob felt fine. It had been something he ate at a business meeting. I opened my computer and checked the latest Corona updates. The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Israel and around the world was still rising rapidly, and that was only those who had been tested. Undoubtedly, the number of people carrying and sick from the virus was much higher.

I checked for updates from the kibbutz synagogue committee. Would there be Friday night services that evening? And if there were, would I go? As chair of the mikveh committee, should I consider closing the mikveh, even though it seems the chlorine we use in the water kills the virus? What about the surfaces, the door handles? It is not within our budget to clean after every immersion. Other mikvaot around the world were staying open but reminding people to wash their hands, wipe down surfaces, and use a shirt to open and close doors. I sent an email to my committee members asking their thoughts on the subject.

I opened Facebook. One post quoted a scientific analysis predicting that if all of the people expected to die from COVID-19 do indeed die, the planet’s temperature will be reduced enough to have a positive effect on climate change. While the suggestion that people must sacrifice their lives in order to save the planet did not seem fair, there was something comforting in that notion. The idea that Nature will find a way to balance itself out and cure itself of the threat climate change poses on its life, did not reduce my anxiety about my own future, but it did give me hope for the future of humanity, planet earth, and the Universe.

Then I read a post in an FSHD Facebook group. The writer expressed satisfaction in hearing people complain about being in isolation. Now they would know how limited, helpless and enclosed she felt always: confined to her apartment for days on end if she could not find anyone to help her go out; having to rely on others for simple sustenance-related tasks like food shopping; and feeling uncertain about what her health condition would be from one day to the next.

The computer screen became blurry as my eyes filled with tears. Yes! This crisis was touching my most vulnerable place, my fear of the unknown, but now I was not alone in this feeling. Everyone around me was feeling it, too. And there was something uplifting about that. Not because misery loves company, but because there is something so amazing about all of humanity – and when I say this, I am not exaggerating, because it seems the COVID-19 virus will actually reach all of humanity (if it has not already), with no exception – feeling our humanness all at once.

Yes, we will all die. Some will get sick and die. Some will die in car or other accidents or through human-on-human violence. Some will die in natural disasters. But we all will die, and most people do not wake up to this reality until they personally are faced with a debilitating, degenerative, or fatal illness. This did not mean we shouldn’t take precautions. I too was taking precautions. And it was good the world was reacting. But that did not minimize the fact that chances were high I would contract this virus. I could pray that if I did contract it, my body would be strong enough to fight it. But there were no guarantees.

Next I read a comprehensive and inspiring spiritual and social action analysis of the situation that urged people to take extreme precautions for the sake of the elderly, health-compromised and physically weak, who are at the highest risk of dying from this pandemic. I found that a moving and noble sentiment, but still on some level one that seeks comfort in creating an illusion that only THEY are in danger, not ME. What I find awesome about this situation is that it forces us all to realize there is no more US and THEM. Biology is the threat here. Nature is the threat here. It is not even good or bad. It just is.

As a Jew who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in a tight-knit Orthodox community in New York, for me Nazis and concentration camps was a huge part of my consciousness. My biggest fear was that it would happen again, which is one reason I chose to move to Israel in my 20a. I feared having to go into hiding like Anne Frank. I feared being made to shave my head and walk barefoot for days on end like Elie Weisel. I feared being gassed and cremated, beaten and shot. But more than anything, I feared the loss of control that would lead up to that horrible fate. But at least then, I could blame the Nazis. And if I moved to Israel, and we were bombed and blown up, at least I could blame the Palestinian terrorists, Syria, Iraq, or whoever was the Amalek of the time.

But then I lived in Israel and realized things are not that black and white. Who is Amalek? Is the world so easily divided into those who are good and those who are evil? Those who are victims and those who are perpetrators? Slowly, I came to believe that the only solution to the endless cycle of violence in the world is for us to recognize that we are all human, that there is really nothing that separates us except our own illusion of separation. If we can recognize one another’s humanity, heal our own sacred inner wounds, and let go of our need to protect ourselves against our inevitable human vulnerability, that is when the world will be repaired. One soul at a time.

It was this revelation that led me to study spiritual counseling. The process is healing for both counselor and counselee. Holding space for another in non-judgment, seeing the person sitting across from you as whole and in no need of fixing, can be as healing as being the one on the receiving end of this experience. This is also what led me to join a Palestinian-Jewish narrative sharing group, in which each month one person tells their story while the rest of the group listens and holds space in non-judgment. Whether we are doing this work on an individual, group, and, finally, hopefully, national level, the effects of these ripples have a chance of working their healing power.

So is COVID-19 humanity’s salvation? I would not dare to belittle the traumatic reality we are facing. But since we have no choice but to suffer its consequences, we may as well look for some rainbow in this storm. There is something absolutely stunning about the fact that all of humanity now is suffering from the same threat, and it is not a human threat. We cannot blame anyone, not even ourselves. This is life. This is what it means to be human. And we are all in this together.

When it was China, it was far away. I’ve never even been to China! When it was Italy, well I have been to Italy. Once. But still, I don’t even speak Italian. When it hit New York – and not just New York, but the very synagogue community where I grew up and my parents still live! – that felt very close to home; but still, I had made the decision to leave that place. But when it came to Israel, it finally hit home. And then, when Jacob, who had come back from the US exactly two weeks before, retreated to his bed, it hit not only home by my personal home. I knew it would was just a matter of time, but still…

And then I dreamed what I did.

My dream may seem dismal on the surface. It certainly did leave me feeling hopeless and frightened when I woke up. But as part of my spiritual counseling training, I studied to become a certified dream worker as well as a spiritual counselor. Working my clients’ dreams in sessions and working my own dreams with colleagues in my virtual dream group, has become an integral part of my spiritual life.

When I worked this dream, the feeling of hopelessness with which I was left when I awoke was turned on its head. The light at the top of the stairs spoke and told me those cat cadavers were just empty shells. Their souls had left their bodies, and they had reached the light. And my soul too would reach the light when the time was right. The situation was grim. Even those cats with their nine lives did not survive this threat. There certainly was reason to fear. But in the end, all souls would reach the light.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the rabbinic founder of Shmaya: A Mikveh for Mind, Body, and Soul, the only mikveh in Israel open to all to immerse as they choose. She is the author of two spiritual journey memoirs: Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals of Baking, Bathing, and Brightening, and Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination, which was a runner up for the National Jewish Book Council Awards. Ordained as both a rabbi and an inter-faith minister, certified as a spiritual counselor (with a specialty in dream work), and with a doctorate on mikveh from Bar Ilan University, she offers mikveh guidance and spiritual counseling for individuals and couples, and mikveh workshops and talks for groups. She is currently working on a novel and a third spiritual memoir, and her latest book, Getting (and Staying) Married Jewishly: Preparing for your Life Together with Ancient and Modern Wisdom, is slated for publication in 2020. She lives on Kibbutz Hannaton with her husband and seven children.
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