Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

Feels like it’s starting to end…

It feels like things are starting to change.

I know that we are incredibly lucky, living here in the metropolitan area. Once we made it through those first few hectic weeks, when the promise of vaccines was dangled in front of us (sometimes I just stop to think at the topsy-turveyness of wanting, even yearning to have a huge scary needle stuck in my terrified-of-injections-since-childhood arm), when there seemed to be so much more demand than supply, we seem to be more or less okay. There seems to be enough doses around, and phalanxes of volunteers eager to connect the still-unvaccinated to that supply.

Everyone I know is either fully vaccinated or waiting for the second dose. (Except for children, of course. That’s a nagging worry that I push aside, and I suspect that other people do that too. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the time when kids, including little ones, are cleared for inoculation.)

We know that the number of diagnoses and hospitalizations still are up, but it seems controllable now. Because did I mention that WE’RE VACCINATED?

And it’s spring.

Last Friday night, my husband and I had our first indoor, maskless, normally rather than socially distanced Shabbat dinner with friends in the last 13 months. There were five of us altogether around a table that usually hosts eight or 10 or 12. Andy and I have spent at least one Shabbat a month with Ruth and Irv for at least 25 years; Helena joined our group maybe a decade and a half ago. We’ve been together through everything; sudden death, lingering death, engagements, weddings, births, miscarriages, grandchildren, job losses, moves. Joy. Grief. Everything.

For the last 13 months, we’ve only seen each other on our computer screens.

I’d expected to feel some something when I walked into Ruth and Irv’s apartment — I’d been looking forward to the evening with excitement – but I hadn’t expected to be overwhelmed with a rush of emotion so complicated that I couldn’t tease apart its strands, and I didn’t want to waste time trying. It was mainly joy, with an overlay of maybe 15 other emotions, like some kind of very complicated painting.

We sat in the living room we hadn’t realized we wouldn’t see for 13 months, and then moved to the dining room table and sang the melodies that didn’t sound the same with only two voices (particularly if one of them is coming from someone as tone-deaf as I am).

And then Irv said the Shehecheyanu, the blessing for something new. That new thing, of course, was a once-old thing. Our being together.

That did it for all of us. I couldn’t really see if anyone else was crying because my vision was too tear-clouded, but I did hear sniffs.

That’s the thing about beginning from the isolation of this pandemic. It makes every joy seem so very crystalline.

Later that weekend, I walked down Riverside Drive. (What do people without dogs do to make them leave their houses and remember that the outside exists? I drag mine everywhere.) On the corner of a pretty but generally unremarkable townhouse, I saw a sign, printed out from a computer and encased in plastic from a notebook, surrounded by newly blooming vines and trees, that read, in Hebrew on top and English below:

“Blessed are you, HASHEM, our God, King of the universe, for nothing is lacking in His universe, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure with them.”

And all I could think was Amen.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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