One year later: Finding hope in a Covid simcha

March 3, 2021

My first wedding. In over six months. Second in a year. Two SAR graduates. During our “anniversary week”.  

One year ago today, on March 3, we closed the school for what became the rest of the year. At the time, people thought it was a “SAR, New Rochelle” thing. It took a few weeks to become clear that this was bigger and a few more to realize that it was not ending any time soon. Remember when we thought Pesach would be normal? We looked forward to the summer?

So what did simcha today feel like?

Strange. Different. Bold. Sad. HOPEFUL.  

Strange. I haven’t worn a tie in a year. It felt as if everyone was out of practice.  We didn’t hug or shake hands.  Monogrammed masks and sanitizers were handed out.  Some people were seated at a table for two; no table had more than six. The chuppah was outdoors in a tent, despite the cold and wet weather.  Half of the guests sat there for the meal, where the adapted dancing took place as well. Some close relatives were not able to attend due to quarantines, minor symptoms, or anxiety.  

Different.  Instead of the large weddings we have become used to, the numbers were much more intimate.  Even the date of the wedding changed just two weeks ago, to allow time for close family to navigate the Israel airport closures.

Bold.  It felt invigorating to have a simcha, despite the challenges.  Many of the guests were members of the New Rochelle community, the “center” of the initial activity around the virus last March.  We had been quarantined that first week (including myself), and had to navigate things when so little was known.  Speaking to Rabbi Fink, the Morah deAsrah of that community felt nostalgic.  Normally, we meet twice a month or more, for smachot.  But we have barely seen each other.  Our encounter, to me, felt like we were starting up again.  The parents of the bride and groom displayed “appropriate caution,” Seth Godin’s preferred term, over “an abundance of caution.”  There were appropriate safeguards in place, while the value of celebrating in person was considered in the planning of the simcha.  

Sad.  The physical masks partially hid the beautiful smiles. The physical distance hampered the hugs. But non-judgmental. I loved that everyone seemed to allow for different levels of comfort as we reenter, and slowly inch back to our routines.  Some people felt comfortable dancing (masked, and gloved or with ribbons) and others did not.  That was OK.  Some couples sat at private tables, others joined together with a smaller group.  With many health care workers, teachers, and elderly in attendance, 60 percent of the crowd was probably vaccinated.  That helped all of the guests, not just those that were “protected.”  If people couldn’t make it, or didn’t feel comfortable, that was OK too.  Some people left after the ceremony, not yet ready for more at this point.  Others stayed longer.  As I was leaving, I habitually put my hand out to shake someone else’s hand.  He declined.  I apologized for forgetting – but it was OK.  We were all just getting used to this again.  No hard feelings.  

Hopeful.  March 3rd marks a major milestone for our community.  At the time, we thought the closure would last a week or two.  Definitely not past Pesach!  We have been blessed to be in school, mostly in person, since September.  With many restrictions, of course.  Watching two young people begin their life together is always hopeful and intense at the same time.  The future for themselves and those around them.  This time, it felt like a vote of confidence for all of us.  

At every Jewish wedding, we have a custom of breaking the glass at the ceremony.  It reminds us, at the time of our greatest joy, that Jerusalem is not yet rebuilt; that it is incumbent upon us to remember that which is missing, and that our joy is incomplete.  We are required to recognize the suffering and hardship around us, lest we become insular and insensitive.  Yet after that glass breaks, the music begins.  We usher a couple into their new home, and we reinforce the belief that the future is bright.

Mazal Tov!

About the Author
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss is Principal of SAR Academy, a Modern Orthodox co-educational day school in the Bronx, NY. SAR Academy is dedicated to the belief that every child possesses a divine spark, has unique worth as an individual and should be encouraged to achieve according to his or her ability. Our warm environment promotes confidence, creativity and enthusiasm for learning. In our approach to academics, we nurture students to develop intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills and a lifelong love of both Torah and Secular studies.
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