One Year - Twice

A Message for Reflection

One year! I think about what I said when Rabbi Sandler told me that I better take these warnings about some flu-like virus seriously. I distinctly remember telling him that there was no way that our country was going to ‘close down.’ And now we sit here a year later. It’s really unbelievable. Tomorrow, March 11, will mark one full year when our country and much of the world shut down. There has been tremendous loss. Many have lost loved ones who may have lived for many more years without the spread of this pandemic. Many of us have lost jobs and financial security. We have become distanced from our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Our children have lost out on their education and crucial socialization that school, afterschool programs, camp, sleepovers, birthday parties, and important Rites of Passage offer. There isn’t a single soul who hasn’t lost something. And it all happened over a period of time – over this last year. One year.

On Thursday, March 11, we mark one year since World Health Organization director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. As with any unfolding situation, dates and times are a bit arbitrary. The first death from Covid-19 is documented in January of 2020, but March 11 is that day that much of the world lifted its eyes and noticed. As we look back, there is little we can do to reclaim the time. Many have sought ‘silver linings’ extolling opportunities that have emerged for some of us which we were able to receive with appreciation. For others, silver linings weren’t possible with death, unemployment, food and housing insecurity and many other realities abounding. Acknowledging the wide spectrum of experiences over this past year, our Jewish tradition is instructive when we look back at this last year of loss.

Judaism harnesses time as a tool for bringing the memories of the past into the future in order to create holiness and blessing. We do this every Friday night when we raise our Cos Kiddush (Cup of Blessing) to bless the day of Shabbat. In our prayer, we invoke both the experience of creation and redemption, marking the beginning of Shabbat and setting the tone of the next 25 hours. We gather together in a minyan (prayer quorum) and recite Kaddish for loved ones who no longer walk the earth beside us. Over time, we turn our great loss into a ritual for committing ourselves to the ideals and values of those who were a blessing in our life. In just a few weeks, we will be at our seder table experiencing the ultimate of ritualized history, a ceremony which has sustained and emboldened Jews through some of the most horrific realities that our world faces. All these harnessed moments, and many more, have offered our people the blessing of taking a world which often feels out of control and brings the world into partnership with the mission of the Jewish people – to mend and heal a broken world.

On Thursday, March 11 our world will observe a yahrzeit of sorts. It was a moment when we collectively realized that we were about to lose something precious. A year later, we now can articulate those losses for ourselves. For each of us that loss is different, and we experienced it at different moments throughout the year. We now mark March 11 to harness time. Not to regain what we have lost, that isn’t possible. We mark March 11 for the purpose of recommitting ourselves to the ideals and values that belonged to whatever it is we lost. As with any yahrzeit, this moment is scheduled for deep reflection and ritual action. I would encourage us all to light a candle and take a moment to remember. What was your loss? Try not to practice comparative suffering. Your loss is yours, regardless of whether it was a person, an opportunity, a friendship, or time itself. Sit with the light and explore what life might look like if we took the blessings promised from those losses and brought them into this next year. How would our life feel blessed, experience those blessings and be a blessing? There is no right or wrong way to envision the year to come. Therefore, I offer this suggestion:

Like our Shabbat candles, two flames that stand, one reflecting on the other, consider bringing a second blessing in this coming year. If the loss that you reflect on is that of a loved one, ask yourself, what was something my dearly departed used to do that was a blessing? Did they have a hobby or a task that was meaningful to them? In this coming year, bring that blessing forward twice! Whatever it is, do it for them. If you mourn the loss of your child’s (and all children’s) education – volunteer to tutor at a local school this coming year. If you have lost connections with friends and friendships that were blossoming, make it a point to either rekindle or start anew two friendships this year. We might not be able to have our time and our losses back, but we can make the year-to-come double in blessings if we harness the time and bring it all forward.

שנזכה להיות צרורה בצרור החיים
May we merit to be bound up in the bonds of life!

Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal