Divrei Tikvah

Rabbi Johanna Hershenson’s Words of Hope


Divrei Tikvah
From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson

I thought March came in like a lion and out like a lamb, but this year it was clearly the month of April. Wow. I thought I was so smart suggesting Temple Beth Tikvah celebrate Passover with a picnic to mitigate against Covid anxiety and exhaustion. Many synagogues throughout the world did the same. A congregation I know well in Auckland, New Zealand, posted photos of their synagogue seder picnic just as I was waking up to our winter storm. Aaaargh. Someone commented on my social media post bearing witness to blizzard winds and snow April 16th: “People plan, God laughs.”
May this month of May bring us the sparkling Central Oregon days we love. May we come out of our COVID anxiety and exhaustion. May we be gentle and kind with one another as we reconnect our social circles with in person gatherings.
While we long for days in which COVID meant nothing to us, days in which war seemed a vestige of history, and days in which we could disagree without offense and defense…it is worth our while to note what the pandemic gave us that we did not know we needed.
On-line venues became our lifeline for gathering. In Orthodox communities the lenient posture allowing for virtual minyan not only made holding a minyan possible, women joined virtual egalitarian minyan platforms in big numbers. Gender egalitarianism is creeping into modern Orthodox norms. Additionally, many of us joined on-line platforms at great synagogues throughout the world. Some of us visited synagogue communities in which we used to participate before moving to Oregon. Others among us found cantors and rabbis we might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.
Another gift of the pandemic was increased collaboration among synagogues and even Jewish movements. We, in Temple Beth Tikvah, had a year of adult learning with five rabbis and synagogues in an ad hoc venture we called Hamsa (Aramaic for five). In the Modern Orthodox world, an egalitarian study group called Anan K’vodecha (Cloud of your Glory) started on line and continues to operate with participants from Reform, Reconstructing, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and secular identifying Jews.
Non-orthodox rabbis in Israel have reported that they are seeing Jews engage in on-line platforms who ordinarily describe themselves as non-synagogue going people, either because they are not religious or embarrassed about their religiosity. Here, in Temple Beth Tikvah, I have noticed friends in Zoom events and adult learning groups who don’t travel to our in person gatherings due to feeling alienated socially because of health or family status matters but on-line found connection.
Many of us attended a family funeral on Zoom or a livestream venue we likely would not have travelled to attend. We had Shabbat Zooms and Seder Zooms with family spread out all over the planet. We celebrated Bnai Mitzvah with relatives who may not have travelled due to costs and Covid.
Finally, many of us during pandemic living, took rituals into our own hands. We reasserted ownership over marking time so that days don’t pass without meaning. We started making Shabbat at home, practicing being present in baking and crafting; we watched Jewish programming on streaming services because we spent more time at home in front of our screens and eventually needed to expand our content consumption to compensate for isolation.
In its own way, the past two plus years of pandemic life, catalyzed new modes of connection and reinvigorated our appreciation of human contact and interaction. We are thinking about how to meet our social needs, how to benefit from our hard wiring to connect with others.
I, for one, am very happy to ease restrictions on gathering and mask wearing. I invite us in this moment to take pause to recognize how the pandemic served us, drew our attention to what really matters, and forced us to get creative and stay creative. While I feel like we lost two years, I also feel like we learned enough to make certain that as we begin to gather again we truly love each other and acknowledge the gifts of sharing moments in time.
May the warmth of spring’s arrival ease our sense of burden and welcome us to entering the world again, connecting with friends old and new, and enjoying the privilege of being part of a community eager to love again!

B’virkat Shalom

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