So many people have what to say about this virus, COVID-19. So many people are at home (hopefully) and tapping away at keyboards about their thoughts and opinions. I too am here tapping away now. Maybe it is keeping us sane, maybe it is a way to connect with others, maybe it is a time to foster self-reflection “in the between” of the internet. Self-reflection about one’s self, others, our community, the Jewish people, and our relationship with Hashem. There is just so much time now. For me though, the one thought that keeps entering into my mind, is that all of us out there are learning about true loneliness. As an LGBTQ Jew I know it well.
I know a world where my family and I, and others like me, were not truly welcome in our neighborhood shuls. There are so many others in the LGBTQ community who know that feeling too. But now everyone is experiencing the world of exclusion. Our shuls are closed to all. What does it feel like when one cannot go to the place that cries out to our neshamas to gather, build, and be part of a community? How many of us out there are missing the communal davening, the singing, the words of Torah? How many of us are missing the kids’ costumes and the banging and clanging to overshadow Haman’s name during the Megillah reading this month? This is the first year in my life that I did not go to shul to hear Megillah. How many of us are missing the simple reconnection at week’s end with friends whom we have almost no time to see all week? I am sure we all are.
So, what do we do with this situation? How do we assess why some giant “Haman” called COVID-19 is trying to reach all of us – in whatever nation we dwell? I have no answers. Truly, I don’t. But I am a Jew, and we are so used to finding humor and strength during times of adversity. The memes are free flowing all over the internet, replete with humor and dreams of a world of “when this is over.” But what will that world look like? I am hoping that it will be better than the world before COVID-19. I am hoping that all of us out there use this time to self-reflect and ask ourselves, what can we do to make the world a better place when this does end? Yes, laugh more, do more, give more, and include more. Self-reflection is for what I intend to use my time. It is, I believe, a strength; the silver lining in all of this. For me, it is my making lemonade out of lemons, if you will. I have always been a glass half-full person and I do not want that to change. But I do want to do more when this is over. I am hoping others do too.
I am hoping that our leaders and the rabbis out there are doing the same. The ones who are now walking a mile in the shoes of the LGBTQ Jew; rabbis who excluded, rabbis and others who harmed the LGBTQ Jew in their midst; rabbis in my own former community. Rabbis are now staring at their empty shuls, unable to daven with their congregants, unable to hear the reading of the Torah, unable to worship Hashem the way each of us needs to – in whatever shul we call home. This is the time to understand what has been done to us. This is the time to self-reflect on what is true leadership. Will they do that? I hope so. I hope each of them rises to the challenge as they stare loneliness in the face. I hope we all do.
I am hoping that the moments we experience now, with the loss of the world as we know it, will lead to a rebirth of us as individuals, as a community, and as a people. May we all merit to witness a better world when this is over. May we use this time to grow in understanding of each other. May our growth of Ahavat Yisrael occur exponentially greater and more rapidly than the spread of this pandemic. I want to believe that we will all emerge out of this, after all of this suffering, after all of this loneliness, into a world filled with light and a greater love for one another.
As my family and I prepare to make Aliyah in the next few months ahead – our literal new world beginning – my thoughts turn to Theodor Herzl. For, without him, there would be no State of Israel to come home to. He believed in a place where we would build a home for our people; a place for all Jews to come. A place where despite our differences, Ahavat Yisrael must reign. He did not only believe, he willed it. In the words of Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream.” During this time of self-reflection, I will a better world for all of us, wherever we are. I hope our leaders and rabbis do the same. I hope you do too.