Friday was a very tough day for the Oceanside Jewish community. A relatively young man in his sixties was taken from us as a victim of COVID-19. This man’s Rabbi officiated at his funeral immediately after the Rabbi buried his own mother in a nearby cemetery. This man’s family could not attend the funeral because of COVID-19 concerns. Our heart goes out to the family who lost a very special father and husband and we pray that God should provide the family with much needed strength. A few people in our community organized a drive-by, whereby a multitude of cars drove by the family’s house and stopped one by one to perform nichum avelim immediately after the funeral while mourners who were quarantined in the house watched by the door.
Later that same day, another group of people in our community organized a drive by in front of Azzy Eisner’s house. Azzy was supposed to celebrate his bar mitzvah last Shabbat by layning his parsha in front of the whole shul. Instead, he layned from a tikun the Sunday beforehand and sent a tape of his layning to his family members and he did a wonderful job. To help create some celebration with Azzy before he can have a real celebration after this pandemic is over, a long line of cars drove by his house singing “Mazal Tov,” some holding up signs of “Mazal Tov” and others simply stopping by to wish him well. The entire family was very touched by this drive by.
Last Friday, two “drive by’s” marked two opposing events: a joyous occasion and a horrific tragedy. The 19th chapter of Masechet Sofrim describes how King Shlomo saw the power of various kindnesses and created a structure to facilitate outpourings of these kindnesses. He built two gates by the Temple Mount, one for grooms and one for mourners and those who were excommunicated. On Shabbatot, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would gather and ascend to the Temple Mount and would sit between these two gates. If someone entered through the gate of mourners, he was recognized as such and was comforted by the masses. Similarly, if someone entered through the gate of grooms, he was also recognized for his position in life, and he was greeted with much rejoicing and blessing. With the destruction of the Temple, a groom is now recognized by the community by having an aufruf in shul on the Shabbat before his wedding and a mourner is greeted and comforted by the congregation in shul on the first Shabbat after he loses a loved one.
And now with no synagogue, we celebrate and we mourn with others with a drive-by. Social distancing cannot make us distant. It just makes us creative. Now I better understand the Talmudic statement that when God destroyed the Temple he only took his anger out on the sticks and stones of the Temple but not on the people. At the end of the day, it’s the people that make the community. Ideally, we want a Temple as a means to unify us as a nation. But we have adapted. Without a Temple, we have created a Jewish center in our synagogues and our schools. But even without our synagogues and schools, we still have found a way to maintain our community. We may not have the adjacent gates at the Temple Mount, but we still have each other.