Double-headed Janus can look forward and backward, but this year of all years we keep our eyes fixed firmly ahead. Eyes on the prize, and that prize is an end to this half-life we’ve been living.
I’ve been thinking about how innocent we were as 2019 yielded to 2020 just a year ago, and we thought that the new decade could bring all sorts of marvels and delights.
On January 5 last year, an estimated 25,000 people marched from lower Manhattan across the spectacular arched beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge, with its history under our feet, to downtown Brooklyn. The march was to protest the anti-Semitism that has been on the rise in this country with the apparently unchecked success of the newly liberated white supremacist movement, which had shown itself hideously in the murders in Jersey City and Monsey the month before.
But the thing about the march was that it didn’t feel like a protest march; the police officers lining the route were gentle and friendly, the weather was cold but crisp and clear, and the crowds, made up mainly but far from entirely of Jews from across the tristate area, were glad to be together. It was oddly exhilarating.
But oh how innocent we were!
Looking back now, at all of us, walking close together in solidarity, of course maskless, taking joy in each other’s company, feeling almost invincible as we strode across the bridge — how embarrassingly innocent.
Not only did we not anticipate the horrors of George Floyd’s death, which told us that our understanding of the police was perhaps less nuanced than it realistically should have been — police officers all are people and while some are heroes, others are not; it is far safer to be white than Black in the United States; and our country’s tangled past is far from being unsnarled, much less knitted properly and neatly together, openly and with love.
We also did not anticipate that the enemy poised to attack all of us, everyone on the march and everyone else as well, was a microscopic virus with no brain, no volition, and a deadly reach.
This new year can bring the vaccine that was developed last year, with record speed, into the bodies of every one of us who can tolerate it. It can allow us finally to remove the masks and stand close to each other, once the threat of the virus is neutralized.
But what will that feel like? How long will it take us to feel normal standing close to someone else again? To see someone’s mouth in person, not just on a computer screen? To hug? To sit across a restaurant table with? To have in your house? Will it feel odd at first? Will we hold back because we’ve been socialized not to get too close? How long will that training take to reverse?
For me, the goal, the thing that I yearn for, the thing that I dream of, the shimmering prize, is hosting Shabbat dinners again. It’s being able to have friends over, crammed around our table, with good food and wine and conversation and laughter and song and scotch and chocolate, with the chance to revel in friendship and warmth and trust. And that will happen this year. Not this winter, maybe not this spring, but by summer, maybe by the time roses bloom.
We all hope that all of our readers will be able to hold out, their sanity and finances and families intact, until that day comes. We wish all our readers a better, saner, healthier new year.
Goodbye, 2020. We won’t miss you. And welcome, 2021, with hope for a better future.