My mother used to say that everything happens for a reason. Unlike the rest of the world, my COVID angst was and still is relatively subdued. Possibly because I happen to live in a remote part of Bavaria, Germany, where the only angst my German neighbors encountered was the sober possibility that beer would become scarce. Needless to say, that for several weeks the only establishments that were open besides grocery stores were trinkhalle. Liquor and beer stores were labeled as essential. With that attitude and my daily walks in beautiful Bavarian countryside, my COVID isolation fared better than most.
COVID made us realize the importance of our respective faiths. After a few weeks behind closed doors, we were secretly craving the discomfort of wooden pews and benches that normally give our weekends purpose in prayer and worship. Technology and creativity kept us close to our faiths while often giving us opportunities to discover what we would otherwise ignore.
Our small military community in Germany was suddenly dropped into isolation as local and military restrictions kept us away from our weekly faith routines. Live streaming of Christian services became the norm. But I added another opportunity to my faith based weekend; Shabbat.
My week draws down with close and personal encounters to Judaism. Thursday nights I eagerly enter my Ulpan 3 class in Modern Hebrew. Often out of my element as my fellow classmates discuss their Jewish traditions and how they might be spending their various Jewish observances, I normally remain quiet and listen. When our mora asks about my plans, I sheepishly acknowledge that I’m goya. Although I feel like I have just revealed a disease, we continue on our imaginary shivyl through Israel, shopping at supermarkets, and Crossword puzzles. And just as my confidence is ready to hit rock bottom, my turn comes to read targyl and all is forgotten in an enthusiastic mora high five Metzuyan! It’s like winning the lottery. I’m back in the fold.
Our military community is lucky enough to have a full-time rabbi as Deputy Garrison Chaplain. As predicted, we are great friends. To say that Jewish service members and their families are underrepresented in the military is an understatement. Rabbi Chaplains in the military do not even number in double digits. Our Rabbi is one of only two rabbis servicing all Jewish active duty members and their families stationed in Europe. But COVID and our rabbi’s tenacity have managed to create a virtual Jewish community that reaches out to those often stationed in remote training areas all over Europe. COVID pushed us out of our places of worship into live streaming. The rabbi live streams Shabbat and Havdalah every Friday and Saturday night. So just like that, Shabbat and Havdalah became an integral part of my weekend worship.
Armed with my Kotel Siddur, I continue my weekly dose of Judaism by “attending” virtual Shabbat. I presume to follow the rabbi as he quickly sings through the psalms with the speed of light. My attempts at matching his alacrity are of course futile but nonetheless do not prevent me from pretending to be on even keel with his singing and reading. As the rabbi explains the week’s Torah reading, I grab my Bible and follow his storytelling attentively like I’ve just heard the story for the first time. To some extent I have, because he gives me an insight into readings I have heard a thousand times before but without Judeo clarity. He brings that clarity to my faith foundation. Shabbat has opened a door into my spirituality that has often questioned my faith. Somewhere deep inside me is a conflict between what I was born into and what I have learned to love. But that is a story for another day.
My rabbi, as I fondly refer to him, has become an important spiritual guide in my life. As I sit across from him, I discuss my intrinsic feelings for Judaism, Jews, and Israel. I seem to feel spiritual comfort with the first, at ease with the second, and developed a deep love for the third. He listens patiently and at long last gives me what I had gone to see him for in the first place; a hard copy of the Kotel Siddur which I clutch triumphantly as I look forward to that night’s Shabbat. He upped the ante with a thick piece of literature; Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. A compilation of short chapters on Judaism, its people, and its history. Maybe giving me more insight into my other spiritual pull that surfaced some four years ago at the Kotel on a November Shabbat evening in Jerusalem.
The pandemic gave us plenty of free time to “revisit” ourselves. We discovered priorities and reached out to family and friends who we had not spoken to or been with for many years. We inadvertently found ourselves floundering in a sea of uncertainty. We were suddenly thrown into the unknown without a rudder and definitely without any leadership or guidance. Those of us who profess some faith or other clung to familiar beliefs and albeit slightly scathed, I hope we are all stronger and better for it. COVID forced us to reevaluate and look into possibilities we never had the courage to explore before. Live streaming Shabbat gave me the opportunity to take a step into an unknown I had always wanted to participate in but never could.
Mid-week prepares me for my weekly dose of Judaism. As I study the last chapters of Ulpan and brush up on my targyl, I find myself eagerly awaiting the end of the week. There are only three of us in our Ulpan class, but we have become friends through our desire to learn Hebrew. They don’t seem to care that I’m not Jewish because what binds us together is Yvrit. This same feeling of belonging transfers itself to Friday night’s Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom we “comment” to each other. Two words that bind Jews from all over the world in prayer, celebration, and remembrance. Two words that allow me to participate, learn, love, and anticipate. Until next Shabbat; Shavua Tov!