Jewish In Times of COVID (And How I Survived It)

On March 7th, I got the call that our Purim carnival got cancelled. COVID was starting to really kick in, and the world started getting acquainted with the now famous phrase "in these uncertain times". We already had our costumes picked out, so the fact that the carnival, which is one of my favorite events of the year got cancelled, it really made me sad. At that point, however, it felt like a micro-problem: we are missing out on the carnival, we'll just get through this one and just wash our hands more often and not shake hands or hug when we see people. On March 13th, we got the email from the Superintendent of Schools that schools would be closing for two weeks.

After that, it all started snowballing. 

I had tickets to go to Chile on March 27th for my grandmother's 90th birthday. I was being told by people to change my ticket for later in the month, as the virus wasn't slowing down. As the date drew near, I got the email from the airline that my flight was cancelled. Then, the conversation shifted to another Jewish holiday: Are we having our Passover Seder on zoom this year? how is that supposed to work.

On April 8th, when Passover arrived, I found myself in two zoom calls with both sides of the family. We hadn't seen each other or been together in such a long time, that I figured "well, this is not so bad, at least we got to see everyone and have a Seder after all". 

Then, the opening for school kept getting delayed. It seemed less and less and less likely that the kids would go back to school. So, with the kids at home, I started baking challah every Friday, and since we were all getting acquainted with zoom more, I started making challah while on zoom with friends. We also started doing Shabbat with my family every Friday on zoom, and I got to join services at my Congregation every Friday. All of these were not things that I was doing pre-COVID (except for services, but that wasn't an every Friday thing). 

Without going into too much detail since I gave some on a past post, April 24th my personal life started falling apart. I started finding myself connecting even more with my Judaism, going to both Friday night and Saturday morning services, feeling a desperate need for additional help from a higher power, as well as feeling the support from my friends and family as well as our Congregation.

The rest is the weirdest summer of our lives. The kids didn't have camp, and I was on my own, juggling the children, our family struggles, and my own sanity. Again, my Judaism kept coming and taking front stage, not just through worship, but by the family and support system that was being so selflessly given to us by those in our lives.

And then... then the High Holy Days started coming up in conversation. When we were discussing how to hold a Passover Seder on zoom, the concept of having High Holy Days services anywhere other than at the sanctuary at Temple Sinai of Roslyn was foreign. I started realizing that this wasn't the sadness that I had felt during Purim or Passover, or even Shavuot, which was another virtual Jewish experience. Losing the High Holy Days wasn't sadness, it was grief: it felt like a real, heartbreaking loss that I was not ready to face. Even with everything that had happened in the last six months, this particular moment felt like a true loss. 

While I knew Sinai was sure to have done a great job at pre-recording services, there was a still this deep fear within me that the experience would be too different for me to adjust. However, when I sat down in front of my computer, Mishkan Hanefesh (prayer book) in hand, and I witnessed the opening of services, it is not an exaggeration when I say that I had tears rolling down my face. They weren't the tears of sadness that I had prepared myself for, but of joy. From my own dining room table, and even with the kids and dog around me, it felt like I was in the sanctuary, surrounded by others who were feeling that same familiarity that I had been craving for the last six months; the familiarity that I thought had been taken away from us in the pandemic. From the first Rosh Hashanah service, to the closing of Yom Kippur, I was able to experience the High Holy Days in a new, much more wholesome way. Experiencing these services, as well as all of the family shabbats, the challah baking, and even the Passover Seder, allowed me to enter into these holy (virtual) spaces with my whole self. During the Rosh Hashanah service, my son came and sat on my lap and asked me to tell him about the particular prayer that was on the screen at that time. During the closing Yom Kippur service, I had my daughter sitting with me, her face lit up at the sounds coming from the services and the Shofar blowing. What's more, I was able to join the closing service at the Congregation I grew up in back in Chile with my sisters, which I had not done in 18 years. And even though the space was a virtual one, it felt closer than ever.

Looking back at the last six months, one of the biggest takeaways is how much my connection to Judaism grew deeper and stronger. 

In Judaism, we rely strongly on tradition. However, what we are also really good at as Jews is to grow from destruction. When the first and second Temples were destroyed centuries ago, Jews did not stop practicing; they adapted, they spread across the world and widened the scope of practice to adapt to ever-changing times. When COVID hit, the concept was the same: we were removed from our sanctuary, but our Judaism and practice of traditions managed to stay intact, challenging the uncertainties that came with a rapidly-moving calendar that at the same time felt like one long, unending day. It cemented the belief that change and limitation does not equal finality, but adaptation. That we as Jews, and as humans, are capable of adapting without compromising the very core values that shape our tradition.

As we gear up to yet more Jewish holidays from home, as well as a brand new year, I am hopeful that this pandemic has not destroyed our personal Temple; that it has allowed us to strengthen it, enhanced it, and given it a bigger meaning.

May 5781 bring us all the opportunity to create our own Holy spaces, and may we fill them (whether in person or virtually) with the same love and connection that our tradition bestows upon us.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Comfortably Uncomfortable: Let's Begin

What Is Joy, And Where To Find It

The Stolen Journey Home