On March 12th, my husband and I left New York, and drove to our own personal slice of Gan Eden, on White Oak Pond, in Holderness, New Hampshire. We are deeply attached to this part of the world, as we’ve been spending summers here for more than 40 years. We were coming to New Hampshire, to get away from New York. In March we felt surrounded by impending danger, and thought we’d be safer in an area with fewer people, more open spaces and cleaner air.
Because of the COVID reality in New York, after being in New Hampshire for just a few days we decided to remain here for the foreseeable future, which meant Pesach on White Oak Pond in the middle of Galut! An unreal concept. But we were living in unreal times. We drove to NY, stocked up with Pesach provisions and made our way back to Holderness. Not only did we celebrate Pesach in Holderness, we were here for Shavuot as well. We worried about the quality of our chagim, just the two of us without our family and community. Much to our surprise and delight, we enjoyed meaningful and delightful Yamim Tovim.
God blessed this corner of the earth with magnificent natural beauty. We live on a pristine and serene lake, surrounded by large and shady trees. The air is clear, and smells fresh. The lake water sparkles during the day, and the moon shines on the water at night. Our drinking water comes directly from our own well 550 feet below ground.
What is not present here in our Gan Eden, is an observant Jewish community.
Even though we celebrated 2 of the 3 Shalosh Regalim here on the lake, as time marched on, I was missing my connection with my synagogue community.
The most spiritually satisfying experience of these past five months that I have been in Galut, has been my participation in live Tehillim WhatsApp groups. Two members of my extended family spent time in the hospital, one with COVID, and the other with cancer. Their immediate families set up on-line Tehillim groups, and I joined in. These WhatsApp groups have become familiar additions to many of our daily lives. A continuous stream of alerts lights up my phone all day, as individuals recite Tehillim in a variety of time zones. Often, during a break in my day, I look to see which chapter has just been completed, and I sign up to do the next few chapters. To make this process more accessible for me, I downloaded a Tehillim App on my phone, where I am able to read Tehillim in Hebrew and English.
I find deep comfort in reciting Tehillim as a member of these groups, especially being here in Holderness, New Hampshire. The participants are men, women, young adults, and teenagers. The participants have a varying degree of fluency and understanding of Hebrew and Tehillim. No one participant has a greater status, no one chapter of Tehillim is reserved for any specific type of individual. God listens to the prayers of all these participants. Everyone’s prayers are accepted equally. There is no hierarchy of gender, age or knowledge level. Everyone’s prayers count. Everyone’s prayers matter.
During these past five months, living in this pandemic, I’ve felt a strong need to be a part of a community of like minded observant Jews. And because that wasn’t a possibility, I have welcomed and cherished being a part of these virtual Tehillim groups. Because of the equality of membership of these groups, I felt there was no barrier between my prayers, and God. The path to Hashem was smooth and unencumbered.
We are now preparing to return to New York. I leave behind the closeness I feel to God, as God is ever present in the natural beauty with which I am surrounded every day. I look forward to my re-entry into my Jewish world. I am eager to daven, outdoors and at a distance with my spiritual community. I look forward to spending time, albeit outdoors with family and friends. I have a good idea of what I will gain from being home, but what elements of my religious life will I lose upon my return? Has my aloneness enhanced my connection to God? Has the absence of a Jewish community enriched my relationship to God? And will that deep spiritual connection survive my homecoming?