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Life in the time of Covid is puzzling, thrilling, dreadful, sacred, profane. We are all doing our best to learn the necessary skills to live in this extreme environment, climbing up a mountain of challenges every day without carabiners or a chalk bag. We trudge. We reach for handholds and we feel for the footholds. We try to keep our balance. And all the while we are muttering to ourselves: I miss my [fill in the blank] so much. When will I hug [fill in the blank]? When will I be able to go anywhere I want to go? When am I safe without a mask? What’s going to happen?
And when the day is done, and if you’re lucky enough to be resistant to insomnia, you put your head down on the pillow and sleep. And then we all get up and start climbing again.
It is in this dramatic and destabilizing atmosphere that we are preparing to enter the new year of 5781. Rabbis and temple staffs all over the world frequently joke about the High Holy Days always being too late or too early and never on time. It’d be nice if we could reschedule the HHDs; maybe in January? Or any other month when the frost starts forming. Just not now, not when there are so many unresolved issues swirling around us like storm clouds.
But, “tide and time wait for no one.” When the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei arrives, on the evening of September 18th, it is Rosh Hashanah. Ready or not, here it comes.
We’ll be ready: with services, music, a prerecorded virtual choir, sermons, a session for younger families, a cooking class and more sweet surprises. We’ll be ready to virtually gather our congregational neighborhood, from Newton to Needham to Brookline to Boston to Iowa to New York City to London to Tel Aviv – and that’s an incomplete list. You can count on us for creativity and comfort.
The more difficult task for every one of us is to be ready spiritually, to be present and openhearted to the challenges of moving into a new year. This is never easy; how much more so now! We are so stressed. We are easily distracted. We encounter so many things over which we have no control. How can we be prepared for a spiritual experience when there are so many obstacles in the way? I suggest four concepts to meditate on in order to be more prepared for the new year.
First, we joyfully and unequivocally acknowledge that we are a vibrant community, united in valuing our Jewish tradition. We share a unique history and a code of ethical behavior that lead us to strive to do the right thing for each other and for the rest of humanity. We share the intimate Temple Beth Avodah bond, the awareness that we aren’t alone. There are congregants willing to be present for us in so many quiet and meaningful ways. It’s the idea of a minyan – a gathering of committed Jews – writ large. We are TBA. We show up for each other.
Second, we are resilient. We will move through this period of Covid, how ever long and protracted it may be, together. As a community, we will push through this. The Jewish people know all about moments that test our mettle. Times of hardship and loss and dislocation. I don’t need to run through the terrible volumes of sadness. You know what I mean: from the Roman Empire to Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union to today: it’s all part of our consciousness.
Covid comes with brand new categories of tsuris [Yiddish for troubles]. It’s a novel virus, and we don’t have a playbook with solutions to our dire fears. Yet. It’s all very difficult and dangerous. But we will not fold. We can do this. We will do this. Together.
Third: we are grieving. Some of us have lost friends and relatives to Covid. We were unable to be with family members who died alone in hospitals and nursing homes. We attended funeral services in masks and gloves, unable to hold each other in our time of loss, unable to bring friends into our homes.
The sharp edges of loss cut deeply in other domains. The loss of a sense of safety, of social connections and personal freedoms, of jobs and financial security. We feel such sadness on virtually every level: as individuals and as a congregation, not to mention as part of an entire world in pain and sorrow. Our HHD experience will acknowledge this grief that we carry.
And yet… We are grateful to be alive, grateful that we are not cast out in the storm. We are thankful for the blessings of health and love that truly and literally give us a reason to be. We say yes to engaging in the mystery of this moment even as we embrace the eternal inscrutability of life itself.
Our sense of collective and individual gratitude will continue to sustain us in the next days and weeks and months. It will give us the strength to keep going, to keep climbing the mountain. Our gratitude will also push us to share our strength with others. We will express gratitude by reaching out to those who are struggling. We will share our blessings with those who feel abandoned, cut adrift.
This, then, is the TBA agenda for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Everything we do will be tied to these four truths: 1) our community; 2) dedication and resilience; 3) acknowledging loss; 4) expressing gratitude. We will sing and we will celebrate. We will learn and pray. We will laugh and we will weep.
You are a part of the TBA family. Our temple ceases to exist without your support and presence. Come be connected to this climb into the new year. Make 5781 a new year to remember for the best of reasons: because we are, all of us, in it together. Come home for the holy days with TBA.
Rabbi Keith Stern
meet rabbi stern
Our congregants have a lot to say about why they belong to TBA. To find out more about membership, please email Becky Oliver our Executive Director.
He loves jazz, cooking, books and his TBA family! Watch the video above to learn more about Rabbi Keith Stern.
Click here to email Education Director Heidi Baker to schedule a tour or for more information on our education programs. Visit our Early Learning Center page to find out about our excellent preschool-based program.