The Jewish High Holidays and Sukkot have come and gone and this year, unlike any other, posed new and significant challenges for all of us in different ways because of COVID-19. Yet it also offered new opportunities.
So, on the spiritual report card of life, how did we do?
In years past, we took for granted that we could celebrate holidays together – with family, friends and community members – at services, meals and communal gatherings. We schlepped kugels, briskets and honey cakes across town and happily anticipated the joy of dining together under the night sky in our sukkahs.
Not so easy this year as we painfully accepted, some of us kicking and screaming, the reality of COVID-19 and the varied, dramatic changes it has required of us in how we live, work, socialize and pray.
In spite of that, we still created ways to come together as a Jewish community and nourish our spiritual health, at a time when gathering together was necessarily limited or prohibited in order to protect our physical health.
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Online services were abundant, with many of us experiencing the delight and inspiration of “attending” congregations in other cities, even countries. In my own home, I created a special feeling by designing my own mikdash me’at, a sanctuary at home. I placed a white lace tablecloth, flowers, candlesticks and my siddur on my dining room table and tuned in to an early morning service in New York, followed by one in Tucson. The afternoon brought me to Los Angeles, and in the evening, I broke my fast on Zoom with my family.
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In a spiritual context, COVID-19 provides an opportunity to enhance our holiday experience rather than limit it. True, this requires us to have a major attitude shift, but historically, Jews have been doing that for years – adapting to the challenges imposed by history, governments and hostile communities.
So perhaps we can see this new year of 5781 as a time when we accept that while we can’t go outward, we can go inward. Into our hearts, minds and souls – to truly reflect on what is important to us and find ways to better ourselves and others. Perhaps this is the year that we commit ourselves, from the privacy of our living rooms as we encounter the world on our computers, to make it a safer, healthier and more equitable place to live.
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Maybe this will be the year that we use the time and energy that we will save, by not doing all of the things we have done in the past, to consciously and intentionally look for new ways to contribute our resources, counsel and support to those people and organizations that so desperately need our help. Because while we may not be physically together as we were in the past, we can still do something that will bring us closer to who we want to be and how we want to be as a member of the Jewish community in the future.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is an award-winning author, nationally-syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, international public speaker and attorney. She has written more than 300 columns and essays that have been published nationwide, amyhirshberglederman.com.