Our tradition teaches that there is a “time for every season under heaven.” There are times, Kohelet assures us, for mourning and crying, for laughing and dancing, for loving and healing, for speaking and silence. Sometimes those are separate times – moments, phases, eras defined by loss and grief, or by success and celebration. But more often than not, we have to do it all at once. We have to reflect and act. We have to live in the past and the present. We have to remember and move through. We have to cry tears of joy and sadness from the same full and weary eyes.
The night was a full one. Artists unveiled an exhibit in the lobby. Choirs chanted words ancient and new. Actors performed monologues written by playwrights inspired by congregants who shared their own stories and experiences. We dedicated a new Siddur of Reentering, a compilation of liturgy, poetry, art and reflection to guide users through the waves of darkness, memorial, reentering and gratitude that the evening’s many pieces all centered around. We sang. We danced. We danced backward (a nod to a Klezmer tradition, led and guided by a dozen members of the DC Klezmer workshop). We laughed. We nodded in assent. We remembered. We cried.
One of the program’s most poignant moments was in the memorial section of the concert, when attendees had the opportunity to text the names of loved ones who had passed away early in the pandemic who had not had the chance to be mourned publicly. These names were then projected on the large screen as the choir sang a haunting rendition of the words to Mourner’s Kaddish. As the display populated, I watched as names both new and familiar – as the presence of strangers and beloveds – entered into our communal space. The woman I buried from the cemetery by myself, her kids on FaceTime, before anyone else was allowed in, with a BYO shovel I handled with latex gloves. The man who died alone. The person from the first funeral in which family was allowed back in. My grandmother. The room felt somber, but also full of power and love. We have lost. We have suffered. Not all of us equally. Not all of us together. But we also have the ability to remember, to memorialize, and to pay tribute. To make memories, hard and painful, into blessings, no less real.
The introduction to the Siddur of Reentering reads “the journeys to and through pandemic and healing are not linear ones – they are not straight lines, and they do not move in a single direction. Some of us are stuck in darkness. Some are basking in gratitude. Some are ready for reentry. Some need space to memorialize. Some are all, some are none, and some flit from one stage to another back and forth, back and forth. Jewish life is not a straight line – it is a slinky. Forever spiraling, circling, offering paths up and down and around and around and back again.”
While there are several things that Jewish life and ritual are, there at least two things that they are not. First, Jewish life and ritual practice are not about one size fitting all – not about obscuring or eliding the differences in our experiences, both of these past three years and also of this current moment. And second, rituals are almost never about proclaiming an end. Rather, they are doorways – chances to pause along the way and to mark and to assess where we have been, where we are, and where we godwilling are going.
COVID is still with us. A concert does nothing to change that. And each thread of the community’s fabric looks, at this moment, a little different. But the obligation to take notice, the opportunity to reflect, and the giving the gift of time in all its seasons – that is for us all.
We closed the concert by sharing: “what we hope this night gave was a chance to meet others in those stages and in those moments – to remind ourselves that we are on a journey, that today’s darkness may serve as the beginning of tomorrow’s sunrise, to give the opportunity to remember and remember and never forget, and to honor the paths individual and connected that we are all on.” May it be so – amen.