It is hard to believe we are entering the third year of the COVID19 pandemic. When I first took the position of Editor of The Observer, there were mere whispers of a strange virus overseas and the hint that it may eventually make its way to our shores. No one could predict the havoc it would wreak, the deaths it would cause, and the irrevocable changes that would occur in our world. A mask was a costume element, or a beauty treatment. Social distancing was how I set boundaries with certain friends. Six feet was my son’s height. Lining up for vaccines was a distant memory from my childhood. And testing positive, well that meant something else entirely. In short, we not only have a new language, but we also have new behaviors to help us navigate an uncertain world. There has been much to grieve these last few years, and still, much to celebrate. In the pages of this newspaper, we have reported on marriages, births, job promotions, kids doing amazing things, diverse communities supporting each other. In short, the life of our local Jewish community, though changed, has marched on. I reached out to ask folks to share some reflections on how their lives have changed. I received several submissions, and here, I share a few.
Carrie Mills: I started writing a column for the Observer, Kvetch in the City, during the pandemic.
It's been a great help in finding humor in a trying and stressful time. While it's been a great outlet for introspection, connection, and laughter, it's yet to yield Mr Right!
Richard Barnett: The Covid 19 pandemic has transformed my life in a positive way that I could not have imagined. Having retired in 2010 at the young age of 54, my days and years leading up to the pandemic were largely spent trading stocks, watching sports, and exercising. My observance of Shabbat, studying Torah and continuing my Jewish education were almost non-existent.
As the pandemic raged on, causing me to spend weeks in virtual isolation and to consider pulling out the few remaining hairs on my head, one Friday evening I decided to tune into a Shabbat service on YouTube. Within minutes I came to understand the adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I didn’t know how soothing Shabbat music could be, how comforting prayer is and how the sense of community could pervade through the television screen and into my living room.
Ever since that Friday evening more than a year ago, I have not missed a weekly virtual Shabbat service. At the conclusion of each service, announcements are made about upcoming events including Torah study. Having not studied Torah since Hebrew school decades ago, I decided to give it a try. Once again, I quickly realized that you don’t know what you don’t know.
I was fascinated with the wisdom I was learning in Torah study and took it upon myself to read the Torah from beginning to end. Upon completion, I next read Songs Ascending, The Book of Psalms by Rabbi Richard Levy and followed that with Proverbs, Pathways to Wisdom. I am currently reading The Bedside Torah and The Social Justice Torah Commentary.
We are blessed to live in a community that offers many on-line adult education opportunities, most at no cost. There is something for everyone with a wide range of topics and time slots. There are other on-line Jewish classes available, including those sponsored by Hadar, the Haberman Institute and My Jewish Learning.
No longer are my days consumed with trading stocks and watching sports. Rarely does a day go by when I am not participating in a class to further my Jewish education nor does a Friday evening go by when I am not observing Shabbat.
There are times when I wonder if I should take a day or two off from my Jewish studies. This mostly occurs when someone on zoom asks if the pajamas I’m wearing are new or if I am wearing the same shirt as the previous day. I try to be cognizant of my on-line appearance in case a woman on the other end is checking me out.
The Covid 19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the world, our country, families, and friends. I am grateful for my health and the friends and acquaintances that I have met over the past two years. I am especially grateful for how the pandemic has renewed my love for Judaism, my desire to study Torah and to understand the importance of observing Shabbat.
Rabbi Saul Strosberg: First and foremost, our job is to continue to be attentive to community members who are suffering from Covid, from isolation, or from any of the challenges of our time. Number two is for each of us to pursue our individual and organizational missions in the given situation - and to keep up with the times. I do believe that in many instances, the case needs to be stated or restated for in-person gatherings - what compels a person to show up to their community?
Every synagogue and organization has to figure out the answer to that. Another question involves redundancy. Why should I attend my Nashville synagogue, if I can zoom into NY or Jerusalem? In many of these cases, it boils down to personnel connection - but it should be much more than that.
Finally, a time will come when it will be safe to gather as a community, without the health concerns that we have today. How quickly will we be able to embrace one another? Will we be willing to forgo differences we had in how we approached Covid? Will we remember what it is like to be close to and care for people who are not in our immediate virtual orbit? And how good will we be at reaching out to newcomers, who continue to land in Nashville, even throughout the pandemic.