Exhausting, but exhilarating

Two years is a really long time

In Short

From seders in a box, shofar blasts around town, and Shabbat services in the great outdoors, there have been more new programs created in the past two years than in the last twenty combined.

My daughter had to take a moment to think it over. She was considering how old she had been at the start of the pandemic.

“Was I really only 12?” she said, startled by her own answer.

Two years is a really long time, in all of our lives, but most certainly for my now 14-year-old. Over that time she has passed from pre-teen to teen, became a bat mitzvah and nearly made it through all of middle school. How fast this time has flown! And, how intolerably slow! In March of 2020, none of us could possibly have imagined just how long this virus would persist.

As a synagogue rabbi, I have seen a lot during these two years. Dozens of b’nei mitzvah services, weddings, baby namings and funerals, all with the twists and turns of planning during this crazy time.

Lately, we have started to see families facing a second round of COVID life cycles events. Parents who have children several years apart, both forced to endure highly restrictive services and parties. What these poor families have had to go through breaks my heart. What all of us have had to go through breaks my heart.

But, as heartbreaking as it has been, there have also been some definite bright spots, ways our world has changed for the better, not just for the duration of the pandemic but for good.

  1. Relaxed scheduling: Remember a time when what was on the books, was on the books, never to be changed under any condition? Now, our calendars are full of wiggle. What was true today may not be true tomorrow. Jewish holidays and life cycles are still there, but how and when we choose to celebrate them is up to us.
  2. Greater slack: It is not just that we have more ability to change things at the last second, congregants, community members, people in general are more willing to give us the benefit of the doubt. Not everything has to be perfect. Zoom can be bombed, the internet can shut down, the synagogue can ice over and all will be okay. We won’t get angry letters from congregants asking for their money back.
  3. Lastly, three cheers for the creativity explosion. I’ve never seen anything like it. Rabbis, cantors, religious school directors, executive directors, laity, all finding new ways to celebrate, mourn and be together. When one channel is shut off, another us opened. From seders in a box, shofar blasts around town, and Shabbat services in the great outdoors, there have been more new programs created in the past two years than in the last twenty combined. Kudos to all the many ideas. Keep them coming.

I know it’s been exhausting, but it’s also been exhilarating. I was reminded of this at the end of this past week’s Shabbat service when one of the regulars asked to make an announcement.

“I just wanted to let everyone know I am Zooming in from the United Arab Emirates,” he told all of us.  

He was enjoying the subversiveness of participating in a Jewish service in Dubai. For me, the moment was a good marker of just how far we had come in such a short amount of time.

In February of 2020, few of us had any clue about how to video conference. Now, even the technophobes amongst us, are experts.

Looking at my daughter, it is easy to see how much time has really passed. Overnight she has sprung up from a little girl to a young woman. This is time she can never have back. None of us can. My hope now is for her to start high school in a pandemic free world.

Alex Lazarus-Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom, a dual affiliated Reform and Reconstructionist Congregation in Buffalo, New York. He is the author of a new book of Jewish children’s stories based around the Jewish Year called God’s Final Creation: Twelve Stories for Twelve Hebrew Months.