As we approach our High Holiday season, the Jewish spark within us begins to stir and exert its pull. Sure, many of us resist that pull. But for those who have not given up on their Jewish soul-connection, that force grows stronger and stronger as Rosh Hashanah approaches.
And so we begin to plan, just as we have every other year. A shul to pray in with our community. Inviting family and friends to join us for the holiday meals. And we start to look inward to examine how we can improve our souls and uplift our communities.
This year, however, is very different. It’s been a year of Mah Nishtanah on steroids! Sure, we still feel the lure of our tradition. But in the age of Covid-19 many of our families have been forced to remain physically apart. We are socially distancing from our communities in order to safeguard our health and the health of those we love. Nothing feels certain anymore. We feel the gaping hole in our lives that this pandemic has left behind.
Well, the Jewish experience has been no stranger to pain and adversity. We have endured persecution, annihilation, and exile, which has also served to sensitize us to the plight of others who suffer anywhere around the world. But it also taught us how to cultivate our inner strength and resilience.
With our dark past, or perhaps in spite of it, the Jew has become particularly adept at facing challenges and overcoming obstacles.
When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and our people were forced into exile, we never gave up. We re-invented ourselves, and we unleashed the creative Jewish spirit like never before. The Talmud, Jewish philosophy and our rich liturgy are but a few examples of that creative spark.
Likewise, Covid-19 has forced us to re-tool and reinvent ourselves. Some rabbis have even resorted to making cheesy parody videos to keep folks engaged… (Guilty! See my: Hamilton Parody – You’ll Be Back).
As I look back at my rabbinic career, I realize that I have led High Holiday services for over 35 years, which I guess makes me a pretty seasoned rabbi. Yet this year I feel like a newly minted rabbi straight out of school who has never led a service before!
No-doubt, we will do many things differently this year. Our Sukkahs will be smaller. We will daven differently than we did last year. We may not be able to hold hands and dance together this Simchat Torah the same way we have in the past. But we will overcome. We will use that same Jewish creativity and resilience to reinvent ourselves with Zoom minyanim, online learning and other virtual experiences. And God-willing, this will all be but a temporary setback.
Right before the Birkat HaMazon (the grace after meals in Shir Ha’Maalot) we sing: Ha-zor’im b-dim’ah, b-rina yiktzoru. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. (Psalm 126). This year we may have to live without a few of the pleasures of years past. But next year, when we are able to be physically back together, our holidays will be all the sweeter.
Our Jewish way of life, with its emphasis on building community, creating holiness and pursuing justice has been a tremendous gift to the world. We are proud to have been blessed with such a rich history and heritage. From that same well of tradition we will find the strength to persevere and overcome this pandemic. And when we do come back together, it will be stronger and more joyful than ever before.