Our synagogue’s Erev Rosh Hashanah service, this 5781, was electronically streamed into our homes. Unlike other years, where we sat on upholstered pews shoulder to shoulder with fellow congregants, this year my sweet wife and I were alone, and we sat in our den with the iMac.
Our Rabbi had cleverly cobbled together recordings of past prayers and songs, along with his “live” D’Var Torah. Where appropriate, he interspersed beautiful “meditation” footage …trees, fish, clouds…to set a contemplative tone. And, maybe tonight I wasn’t distracted by whispering and the crowd’s movements. With a hot coffee and our Labrador cruising lazily around looking for a comfortable place to sleep, we watched, prayed and contemplated. I hadn’t squeezed into a suit; and my wife hadn’t shopped for a stylish, yontif dress. Besides these few accommodations, the service was very impactful.
I was aware that Covid-19, with two hundred thousand deaths in America and a new lockdown in Israel, might be this generation’s particular challenge and we needed to rise to the occasion.
Back in April, I watched a Yad Vashem presentation “Every Generation Has Its Own Haggadah.” The presenter, Shani Farhi, described how during the Holocaust, in ever deteriorating and dehumanized conditions Jews “celebrated” Passover. As their freedom disappeared and their access to Haggadah, matzoh and wine narrowed, they had to improvise. They were, in fact, concentration camp “slaves,” but rationalized that spirit transcended body and on that night, somehow, they were “free.” The archives at Yad Vashem hold Haggadot pages that were created from memory and written on paper scraps. Stories are captured of tea infused with a dab of jam replacing the wine. When no light was allowed, a Seder of sorts was held during the day. Finally, just walking with a fellow Jew and reciting a passage or melody, satisfied the doomed.
It would be easy for me to ponder the resilience of Judaism in the America. I could agonize over the issues in the Jewish establishment, question the effectiveness of Jewish education and cite the statistics of mounting anti-Semitism. Many of us are worried about these and other trends in the Diaspora. Worst of all, political battles are being played out 24/7 in the media, and dialog with friends and family easily erupts into polemic warfare. The view forward is clouded with doubt and even fear.
But maybe, tonight, I should not fall prey to the flurry of political, demographic and social challenges we face. Our Rabbi asked us to consider how to focus on becoming a better version of ourselves. We have a painful, but proven track record of overcoming adversity, and so on this shabbat and Rosh Hashanah, I should instead look inwards and count our many blessings.
After all, to quote from the politically incorrect Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara, who I’m guessing was not in a Sisterhood, advised “Tomorrow is another day.”