This year, because of 2020 coronavirus safety guidelines, I will deeply miss spending time with family on Thanksgiving. Instead, like millions of other Americans, my husband and I will be not be connecting in person but celebrating the holiday quietly at home by ourselves – both for our own safety and that of our loved ones.
It may just be the two of us seated at the dinner table. Yet, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the pumpkin bread that I make once a year for the holiday. As I place the various ingredients on the kitchen table, I also engage in my usual ritual of choosing background music to keep me company while I prepare.
Today, I decide to listen to the poems of the late Israeli poet and prose writer, Leah Goldberg (1911 – 1970) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leah_Goldberg set to song. As I listen attentively to the words of Goldberg’s poem, “Hofesh” or “I am Taking a Day Off from my Longings,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGIi7bSqaro&list=LL6TaOKuFAPaHSSiiUYkliNQ&index=158 a lightbulb goes off in my head.
The poem, begins, “I am taking a day off from my longings…It concludes with these words:
That which is farthest away
Revives my soul.”
So I reflect. After nine months of social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what I crave most are the in-person connections with friends and family: simple things like enjoying informal outings and get-togethers, hosting Shabbat and holiday dinners, attending shul, or the myriad of regular personal interactions that before COVID were the stuff of my daily life – as were, of course, those annual visits to Israel and walks on the beach in Tel Aviv that always have refreshed my soul.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 outbreak continues to surge worldwide, with nearly 60 million cases worldwide – including more than 12.6 million cases and nearly 260,000 deaths in the U.S. alone. As I grieve these unfathomable losses and widespread economic hardships due to this global pandemic, I realize it’s time to take to heart the words that Leah Goldberg wrote decades ago.
Rather than focusing on bemoaning what is so profoundly missed during the global pandemic, it’s time to take a day off from these longings. Above all, I reflect how what’s so far away has managed to revive my broken soul during these difficult times.
On Thanksgiving 2020, I am grateful that I truly feel part of a global Jewish community and appreciate the Jewish academic institutions, communal organizations, as well as enterprising scholars who have risen to the occasion. I am grateful that modern technology has enabled meaningful, albeit virtual, connections from afar: weekly Skype family visits; Kabbalat Shabbat services at Beit Tefilah Israeli https://btfila.org/ broadcast from Tel Aviv over Facebook Live to my home in suburban Boston; and the myriad of inspiring classes, lectures, videos, musical programs, social justice initiatives, worship services, virtual tours of Israel, and countless other opportunities to engage virtually with friends new and old from across the Jewish world – and, as I venture to guess, also become more educated in the process as we learn with leading Jewish scholars from around the globe.
Hopefully, with the distribution of vaccines, the end of the global pandemic will soon be in sight. While I so look forward to that day and resuming normal activities, I also have a fervent request: As a global Jewish community, can we plan now so we can continue to connect?