I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written and appreciate the messages from those who were concerned. It’s been a difficult path, as I know it has been for many of us.
We are now in the 50 days between Pesach and Shavuot known as the Omer, which are a unique and powerful time in the Jewish calendar. From crossing the Sea of Reeds to arriving at Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, there are many ups and downs along the way. As surely there will be many ups and downs for us during this 7 week period.
We have also just commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day,the greatest tragedy of our modern lives. Perhaps that can give us some perspective for our own current crisis. Unlike the Nazis who targeted Jews, Gays, Gypsies, intellectuals, and many others, Covid-19 is an equal opportunity plague (although truthfully we know it is harming far more African Americans and people living in poverty). We, at least, do not have to suffer anxiety, fear, and loss as well as the incomprehensible outrage of people intentionally murdering other humans.
Today is Yom HaAtzma-ut, Israel Independence Day, when we celebrate the birth of a haven and home for our people. The miracle of the past 72 years must not be taken for granted. Has Israel accomplished all for which we had hoped and dreamed? No, of course not. Modern democracies, even after 244 years, still struggle to create equality, freedom, and justice for all their citizens.
The period between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaAtzma-ut is called, in Israel, the Time of Revival. Such a time of transition from death to birth seems especially poignant this year in the midst of this overwhelming pandemic. It encapsulates the emotional intensity of mourning and joy at once. My friend and colleague, Moti Rotem (the first Israeli born, Israeli educated, and Israeli ordained Reform Rabbi), suggests that this period should be compared to the sacred days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, a time for bearing witness.
He said, “…it is appropriate to engage in introspection and self-reflection about how we measure up… Just as each of us goes through a process of self-examination during the Days of Repentance in Tishrei…” (which occur in the fall) this time period (in the spring) is an opportunity to do so on a whole new level.
Right now, rabbis all across the globe are already considering their plans for this year’s High Holy Days. Whether we ultimately use Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C, it will clearly not be the same as previous years and there will surely be empty places and broken hearts.
But I am wondering even more, how will these Days of Awe feel for us? Regardless of whether we are fortunate enough to gather together in our Houses of Worship or must celebrate through virtual services, what emotions will our prayers evoke this year? I believe when we read the liturgy, it will resonate in new ways. How will we react to some of the traditional images, like being inscribed in the Book of Life, as we ponder in all new and frightening ways: who will live and who will die?
I know these High Holy Days will be different for all of us. Perhaps that is why this time of reflection now can be a form of preparation and consideration for how we will stand before our Creator at the New Year and look back on the year gone by. Now, while we are sheltering in place, while we are seeing the world through different eyes, now is the time to consider. If we project forward to what the experience of Yom Kippur might be like, we can begin now the arduous task of self-examination and introspection. We can decide what truly matters in life. We can work toward change. We can decide to heed the timeless words of the Psalmist who said, “Teach us to number our days that we might get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
As we journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from Egypt to Sinai, from slavery to covenant, may we count each day for blessing and give thanks for the blessings of each day.
Gaylia R. Rooks, Rabbi Emerita