It was one year ago Thursday that we sent the message to the congregation that all in-person services, events, and classes at Temple Beth Hatfiloh would be cancelled. Out of an abundance of caution, we had already cancelled Blintzapalooza, though we still held Purim.
At that time the first announcement said the cancellation would be in place until the end of March. We know now, of course, that those few weeks extended into a year. And while the end may be in sight, we remain in lockdown. This year we held Purim virtually, completing a cycle of holidays in lockdown. Last year at the end of the Passover Seder we said, “Next Year in Person!” This year we once again will be on zoom.
It has been a year of profound loss. Some of us have lost loved ones to the virus, and we grieve with you. That grief was compounded by restrictions on visitations that prevented being with loved ones during last moments and on gatherings that limited mourning rituals. Some of us lost health, either by the virus itself, or because the health care system was stretched to its limit so other concerns were not addressed. Some of us lost our livelihoods, jobs ending as businesses closed or needed to reinvent themselves. And all of us have lost normalcy–the regular routine of our lives have been completely upended. And because of that the year was a series of smaller losses: vacations cancelled, visits curtailed, ceremonies modified. All of us lost human contact, hugs and handshakes, and the casual contacts that comprise our lives.
When the news came down that we would need to shut down our building, it did not mean that our congregation shut down. We quickly moved on-line and found new ways to connect and do community. Whether it was live-streamed Shabbat services, Rosh Hashanah shofar blowing from a boat, study groups and classes on zoom, take home Shabbat dinners and holiday gift bags–plus maintaining personal connections and providing mutual aid–we found new and creative ways to carry on our traditions and communal life.
And for that, we need to look at this past year as not only of what was lost, but what was found.
We found new ways to be accessible and inclusive in our communal life. Seeing how easy it was for most to join our services and events virtually, especially those for whom it is harder to get out and travel down to the Temple, showed us who we had been inadvertently excluding when things were “normal.” We also learned that virtual synagogue breaks down geographic boundaries as former members who moved away and family and friends who lived far were able to join and participate in our community.
We found that virtual meetings can be just as effective and efficient as in person meetings, and perhaps better for our well-being. There is a lot of value in gathering in person, even for committee meetings. This is how we form deeper bonds with those whom we work with and the informal conversations can be as important as the formal ones. At the same time, not having to leave the house after working all day to go to another meeting has its attractions. For me, not having to quickly eat dinner to run out to an evening meeting gave me more time with family and was overall more restful. And the work still got done.
We found that things can be slower. As with above, overall I found that this past year was one of slowing down. When certain activities are closed off to us, we begin to realize how much of those were choices, not necessities, and that we can make time for other things. I love to bake, but hadn’t baked in years until the pandemic hit. Not having to run out of the house in the morning meant more casual family time and cooked breakfasts. Even saving time by not having to travel to different places saved time and stress. How we spend our time comes down to choice, and with the virus making the choices for us, it allowed us to reevaluate the choices we make.
We found new ways to be present for one another. We became dependent on each other in new ways. Friends and neighbors we knew did errands for us or helped us navigate technology. Countless nameless and faceless delivery drivers, grocery clerks, healthcare professionals, and frontline workers kept us comfortable and safe. And living through the pandemic required us not only to receive help in ways we may not have needed before, but to also be able to ask for what it is we needed. And on a larger, societal, level, we found out where the real gaps exist in our social safety net.
We found the need to care for ourselves. One of the astounding statistics during the pandemic is the severe drop in cases of the flu. The coronavirus mandates to wear a mask, wash our hands, and staying home when we are sick are also the things one needs to do to avoid transmitting the flu and other illnesses. Taking these precautions are the way we care for others, but they are also ways we can take care of ourselves.
As we come to this one year anniversary, we look back at what was lost and what was found. And as the end of the pandemic draws closer, we must commit to both carry forward the memory of what we lost, and to not lose what was newly found.