Rabbi Johanna Hershenson’s Words of Hope
If ever there was a truer maxim…April showers bring May flowers. Mark and I have been hiking our butte and neighboring public lands, and indeed, wildflowers are popping up in the high desert just like blossoming daffodils and crocuses in town. The promise of spring, from Passover eve when we dipped our karpas, has manifested in blooms and buds in our landscape.
The new moon marks the start of the Jewish month of Lyar and heralds in the third week of counting the Omer (the days between Passover’s liberation from slavery and Shavuot’s revelation at Sinai). For our Muslim neighbors and friends, the new moon marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan. As the moon waxes and wanes, Jews prepare for receiving the Torah by drawing attention to balancing character traits such as love and discipline, initiative and appreciation. Muslims fast, reflect on self-discipline, sacrifice, and empathy, and engage in acts of generosity towards others.
Spring is, after all, a time of rebirth. That which has lain dormant in the soil through darkness and cold, reinvigorates. Grasses green ordinarily brown desert landscapes. Blossoms flash whites and pinks from tree branches, yellows and purples from the ground. Calves and lambs and kids appear among the cattle, sheep, and goats I pass by as I drive into Bend. Warm winds and open windows… “For, lo, the winter is past” (Song of Songs, 2:11).
And yet, this Spring is different than last Spring and the one before that. It is not merely a case of winter slumber from which we rouse, rather weeks of quarantine and physical distancing from which we have yet to agree on how to emerge.
I imagine I am not the only member in Temple Beth Tikvah grateful to be in Central Oregon during this Covid-19 pandemic. I recognize that our open spaces and our lack of dense population have proved to be assets during these trying times. I also appreciate the measured and collaborative approach our governor has demonstrated in orders for the state and its businesses and school and health systems. My life has been easier than that of my family in New Jersey, California, Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina.
At the same time, I worry about re-opening. I feel vulnerable in that I know I cannot promise safety to our members, only that I and our board do our best as we make decisions every step along the way. So far, scheduled B’nai Mitzvah celebrations have been postponed. As we prepare our program calendar for the coming year, we do not know yet if we will gather for the High Holy Days or create some sort of hybrid livestream/pre-recorded experience.
I think that uncertainty has been both the greatest challenge of living through this pandemic and the most profound opportunity of having lived through it. We, human beings, thrive in the certainty of our will and our capacity to innovate and build and adapt to whatever situation arises in our midst. While I am absolutely certain we will persevere through the Covid-19 pandemic and any resurgence that occurs, until there is a vaccine I have begun to notice that in the absence of norms and habits, our relationships become the structures in which we find certainty or at least just enough trust to get through.
Another adage…Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Our commitment to one another, has transformed us from low-tech to medium-tech. Who would have imagined six months ago that we could bring our congregation on-line? We wanted to see each other. We wanted to welcome Shabbat together, learn together, chat and check in. And we did it. We figured it out.
I think continued opening in society, as well as Temple Beth Tikvah, will work this way: Step by step. Slowly. Smartly. Safely. In the end, it is not the perfection of each and every choice we make, but how we address one another and reach out to support and care for one another along the way.