This has been the oddest month of holidays in living memory.
It has been marked not only by covid and the separation from each other and the masked services or Zoom services or no services that the pandemic mandates, but also by the politics of disunity, hatred, disavowal of science, and just plain weirdness.
Just before Rosh Hashanah began, we learned that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Had we been in shul together, we would have mourned her death and considered its implications together.
Just before Yom Kippur began, the New York Times posted its monumental investigation of President Donald J. Trump’s taxes. Had we been in shul together, we would have explored the implications of his $750 tax payments for two years in a row, as well as the national security risks the information showed we’ve been incurring together.
Just before Sukkot began, we learned that President Trump had been diagnosed with covid-19. Had we been in shul together, we would have attempted to unravel the mysteries of when he was infected and when he was infectious together.
But we’ve all been stewing separately. (It seems too hard to stew on Zoom. The medium is far too cold for such heat.)
Meanwhile, in the outside world, the rates of covid-19 are starting to spike. It’s still low, but the movement is in the wrong direction.
People are getting tired of quarantining. They — to be honest, we — want to be with friends. We want to go out with friends, to have dinner together in a restaurant, to invite them over for Shabbat. We don’t want to wear masks.
But we have to.
As the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinic Council of Bergen County, as the CDC and state health departments, among many other organizations, make clear, we cannot wish this pandemic away. We can ignore it — but then it might get us.
Or it might not.
It would be easier if the virus had the ability to judge; if it could invade the lungs of people who, say, go out in public without masks at least 50 percent of the time, or who sidle up next to their friends too often, ending up at a distance that wouldn’t have been at all creepy in the Before Times but is now. But the virus is a mindless, volition-less, sort-of-alive thing that doesn’t judge. It just moves on, and it’s hit or miss.
We can’t let our guard down.
I am struck, this time of year, by the Halloween decorations, which seem to become more and more unpleasant. I long for the simple, pretty Halloween decorations of my childhood, all orange candle-lit jack-o-lanterns and and blazing red and yellow cut-out leaves and construction-paper chains. Years later, they were superseded by the ridiculous rash of sexy-whatever costumes for adults – sexy witches, sexy ghosts, sexy firefighters, sexy kindergarten teachers… It was, to be unsophisticated but accurate, gross.
But now front lawns are full of skeletons clawing their way up from the coffins. We see hands and legs and skulls protruding. They are, to be fair, profoundly unrealistic looking, as they are meant to be.
But for anyone who’s buried anyone, for anyone who has stood in a cemetery and watched a coffin lowered and then grasped the backward shovel and thrown dirt on top of it, there is nothing funny or ironic or charming about it. And now! With covid! With almost 210,000 Americans dead! Maybe it’s a way of fighting back, of showing insouciance, of being brave in the face of death. But it’s ghastly.
And it’s not what we need as we leave one nightmare year and begin another. A year that we hope will be better.