Modeh Ani on Thanksgiving Week

It was supposed to be a glorious Thanksgiving week.

On the Shabbat before Thanksgiving, we attended the second gathering of the rejuvenated Davar, our incredible Teaneck community group (“A Shortcut to Knowledge”), created and spearheaded by Larry Krule and Susan Fader. At the first post-covid program, Rabbi Ethan Tucker enthralled us; this week Prof. Jeffrey Rubenstein of NYU shared fascinating insights into talmudic story cycles. Plus a delicious kiddush and warm camaraderie.

Sunday evening, devoted to culture, was made possible by our good friend Hynda, who invited us to join her at a performance by the Mantua Singers in honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of Salamone Rossi’s collection of 33 choral compositions set to sacred Hebrew texts (“How Matthew Lazar met Salamone Rossi,” November 16). The concert, presented by the Zamir Choral Foundation, was conducted by Maestro Matthew (Mati) Lazar, with whom Sharon shares a history of Camp Massad and the High School of Music & Art, and under whose direction she sang for years in the Shirah chorus at the Kaplen JCC in Tenafly. I especially enjoyed chatting with Vivian, my elementary school classmate and Far Rockaway neighbor, who is the director of HaZamir, the foundation’s international Jewish teen choir and, oh yes, Mati’s wife.

Monday evening brought me to Seasons of Love and Unity — Teaneck’s annual Thanksgiving celebration – in which residents and the leaders of Teaneck’s broad range of faith communities assembled in friendship and good will. It was sponsored by the Teaneck Interfaith Community and chaired by my new friend, and indefatigable volunteer for numerous good causes, Cheryl Hall.

On Tuesday I attended a lecture by Rabbi JJ Schacter about the life of Maimonides at the Beit Midrash of Teaneck. That evening we were scheduled to attend another spectacular cultural event, “An Evening With Itzhak Perlman,” sponsored by Amit in celebration of its soon-to-be-built Kfar Batya campus. My sister and brother-in-law, Rena and Bruce, had graciously asked us to be their guests at this gala. (A personal highlight was being greeted by an Englewood couple who told me that they are readers of both the Standard and my column and recognized me from my picture -– I guess I was wise to wear a bowtie to the event.)

I set aside most of Wednesday to begin writing this column, to be followed by our annual family Thanksgiving celebration at the Riverside Drive apartment of my sister-and-brother-in-law, Andrea and David. Friday was earmarked for our grandson Aiden’s 2-year-old birthday party in Englewood with my son-in-law Allen’s family. We avidly looked forward to both.

The culmination of this special week was to have been a post-Thanksgiving Kaplan family Shabbat in Teaneck with all our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren. Every available bed (and crib) in our house was carefully assigned, and we all looked forward to gathering around our dining room table, enjoying our favorite foods prepared by our favorite chef, and catching up on all the things that even family text groups can’t capture. Man tracht (man proposes).

Then life intruded. Und Gott lacht (and God disposes).

First, a complex shul political-religious issue that I’ve been deeply involved in unexpectedly became more difficult. Thankfully, good will and respect was shared by and for all, but, sadly, finding a satisfactory solution continues to be highly challenging. This was followed by a major screw-up by ShopRite of the order we had submitted weeks ago to its kosher department to cook and carve our Thanksgiving turkey, and the receipt of a letter from our Medicare Supplement insurer with an unexpected, unfair, and improper rate increase. Much frustration and aggravation.

And then the coup de grâce (or so I thought; see below). As I arrived home after hearing R. JJ’s wonderful lecture (yes, I know that’s a tautology), I heard Sharon on the phone with a health care provider talking about testing centers. A quick trip to one of Englewood Hospital’s urgent care facilities confirmed our fears. Sharon had tested positive, ending our household’s covid-free status since the onset of this plague.

That, of course, drastically changed the course of the remainder of the week’s activities. Our Toronto family stayed in place, I attended the Amit evening without Sharon but with an N-95 mask, and we had a distanced Thanksgiving dinner for two in Teaneck rather than for 19 in Manhattan –- the first time I can remember having dinner alone with Sharon, with each of us sitting at opposite ends of our 6-foot-long dining room table.

And then my scheduled stag attendance at Aiden’s birthday party was cancelled because (coup de grâce number two) on Friday morning I tested positive for covid (thanks, Sweetie). And so our family Shabbat in Teaneck was transformed into Shabbat in Teaneck, the Upper West Side, Crown Heights, and Toronto.

Not quite as glorious as we had planned and anticipated.

So what’s my takeaway? I was initially tempted to make “man tracht und Gott lacht” the point of this column but resisted for two reasons. First, I already used it above; repetition and columns don’t mix well. More importantly, upon additional reflection, I heard a different message –- one of blessing and thankfulness.

I’m blessed and thankful for wonderful friends like Larry and Susan and Cheryl, and for institutions like Davar and Teaneck Interfaith, for all they do for me and my communities.

I’m blessed and thankful for loving friends and relatives like Hynda and Rena and Bruce, who are always thinking of Sharon and me, and who generously share experiences with us.

I’m blessed and thankful for a cultural organization like Zamir, with Mati at its head, that preserves Judaism’s musical heritage while teaching and performing that music in a way that educates while creating joy and touching hearts.

I’m blessed and thankful for an institution like Amit, one to which my mother and Sharon’s devoted so much time and energy, that has not only changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli children, but also continues to lead the way in developing cutting edge educational and social support services.

I’m blessed and thankful for teachers and friends like JJ, who inform, educate, and inspire me as well as the future leaders of my community, and for friends of my youth like Vivian, who remind me of a special time and place.

I’m blessed and grateful to be a member of Congregation Rinat Yisrael, which meets so many of my religious needs as well as those of the many others whom it welcomes under its big tent (literally during covid but always metaphorically).

I’m blessed and thankful that due to the vaccines, medications, and increased medical knowledge that were developed by the incredible efforts of numerous scientists, researchers, health care professionals, and others, our covid appears to be more like a very bad cold or flu (pooh pooh) rather than the life-threatening, and sadly for some life-ending, disease that it was for too many over the past 33 months, and that we’re feeling better already (ditto the pooh pooh).

I’m blessed and thankful for the Jewish Standard and its editor Joanne Palmer for providing me with this wonderful platform, which allows me to speak to readers a few times every month, and be recognized both with and without a bowtie.

I’m blessed and thankful for family beyond those most immediate, who look forward to, and try to create, occasions when we can celebrate together, and who are saddened when those plans fall through.

I’m blessed and thankful for daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren beyond compare, who constantly help in deed, advice, and emotional support, while bringing me and Sharon immeasurable pride and joy.

And I’m blessed and thankful for a partner of 52 plus years, without whose support and love my life would have been so very different and so very much poorer.

Yes, I am truly blessed and thankful.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is a long-time resident of Teaneck. His work has also appeared in various publications including Sh’ma magazine, The New York Jewish Week, The Baltimore Jewish Times, and, as letters to the editor, The New York Times.
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