Every time that people talk about the state we are in as “the new normal,” a wave of sadness washes over me.
In the beginning, I gathered all of my strength and looked to make the most of what I thought would be a few months’ challenge. More family time, Zoom teaching, davening at home, extended-family virtual get-togethers, major clean-ups and opportunities to be creative and think out of the box, try new things and get other things done.
We can do this, I thought.
Every day there was a steady stream of funny memes, videos and songs capturing the ridiculous moments and absurd realities of living with COVID-19. The mom venting about online distance learning, the guy teaching his mother how to use Zoom, the family singing Corona songs to Les Mis, and Waldo in any empty field spaced 6 feet away from everyone else around him.
At the same time, there were the inspiring moments. The free concerts, the joint singing and clapping on mirpasot (porches), the street minyanim that began to pop up all over, the Yom Ha-Atzma’ut celebrations, the hospital flyovers and the incredible resilience that was demonstrated time and time again by so many ordinary people in the face of horrible loss, hardship and tragedy.
Okay. Collectively, we proved we could do it.
And now we are ready for it to be over.
But, instead, we have settled into a new rhythm, and it is a difficult one to accept. The longer this goes on, the more of an emotional toll it is having, even on those who have been spared the genuine loss and economic devastation that neighbors have suffered. We never wanted this to become normal. It’s anything but.
In Israel, they like to use the term “Shigrona” — a mix of the words shigra (routine) and Corona — to describe the new routines that have become part of daily life: masks, social distancing, handwashing, limited gatherings and multiple plastic dividers separating our indoor spaces.
Over the past few weeks, I have attended a few weddings. I got dressed up for the first time in weeks and was excited to be with other people and to get out a little. And the weddings were wonderful, joyous and full of energy and happiness. But Corona was there, too. Masks, dancing ribbons to avoid touching, distanced seating, plated food. And then you remember that there is no escape. It is everywhere.
Are we really still doing this?
Yesterday, we began the period on the Jewish calendar known as The Three Weeks. The time of year when we mourn the fact that the Temple, God’s home on this earth, was destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled from Israel and scattered around the world.
Soon, we will fast, sit on the floor, read Megillat Eicha, recite kinnot and recall the terrible tragedies of Jewish History. Crusades, pogroms, Kristalnacht, the Holocaust, murders, starvation, despair.
And every year people ask: Are we really still doing this?
Aren’t we back in Israel? Don’t we have our own state? Jewish sovereignty? One of the strongest armies in the world to protect us?
Yes, thank God, we do have all those things, and for them we are extremely grateful.
And yet, we are still mourning and fasting and thinking about what we have lost. Because life is not all or nothing. It is complicated. We can be aware of what we have but still hope for something better.
This year, we also mourn for lots of things we maybe used to take for granted. The normal we perhaps never really appreciated. The hugs and handshakes, davening in shul with community members, the stability of our careers and livelihoods, flying back and forth when we pleased, leaving our homes without masks on our faces, and a sense of security (however false it was) in the routine of our day-to-day lives.
And yet, mixed in with that mourning is the gratitude I have for the well-being of all my family members who were sick and recovered and for the fact that we have a roof over our heads, food to eat, and the ability, once again, to leave our homes.
The Jewish people are well trained in living and dealing with complexity. We can mourn and be grateful. We can make the most of what we have as we yearn for something different. We can accept and embrace our reality while working towards more.
And we can do this and still think it’s not normal.