Hope and Fear

Hope and Fear

By: Rabbi Alan B. Lucas Posted: June 3, 2020

Here is the question that challenges me these days:

Is Covid-19 a world changing event or will the “old normal” soon return and the world revert to the way it was? How will this chapter in history end? Will man conquer nature and this pandemic soon become a distant bad memory; will the scientists work their magic and save us with a vaccine? Or will nature once again have its way with us? Maybe this virus has permanently altered the course of human history, forcing us to adapt and adjust to a new world and new ways?

In the immediate wake of 9/11 we also thought the world had changed in some very basic and fundamental ways. But it didn’t. After we mourned our losses as painful and traumatic as they were, after we built a moving memorial and learned to mark the event from year to year, we went about life as usual. Today, Ground Zero is busier and more bustling than ever and our lives are pretty much the way they were before 9/11.

Will the story of Covid-19 be the same? Now we are in the grips of the trauma. We mourn the mounting deaths – already more than 100,000. We are dismayed by the extent of the suffering this virus has left in its wake, visions of so many people on ventilators, hospitals filled to overflowing, loved ones trapped in nursing homes, the lost jobs and lost livelihoods and the long lines at food banks. We are overwhelmed by it all as we remain secluded in our homes fearful of going out. And when we do venture into the world, we now look at all those who approach us as a threat. We wear our masks, wash our hands and keep our distance.

Some of our losses are profound – a loved one, a friend. Many are more trivial – a night out with friends in a restaurant, taking a child or grandchild to a ball game. But trivial or profound these losses are real and they are part of our lives now and we are desperate for them to end.

So, like me you ask: Will the “old” normal return in six months? Twelve months? Or is this the “new” normal that will shape and challenge our lives for years to come?

Only time will tell. From our current vantage point we have only hopes and fears.

We cannot wait for history to chart its course to make some decisions and that is why we need to talk.

For however long this “new normal” lasts we have some decisions we have to make – as individuals and as a community – now. Some of these decisions will be based on our hopes and some on our fears – but by talking and sharing together we can make choices that will help us navigate today and tomorrow. And then we can see where we go from there.

Yes, we need to talk. We need to talk because the world has changed over these last few weeks; you and I have changed over these last few weeks –and even if these changes are only for

now – they still demand our attention.

First we were called upon to figure out how to adapt to a stay at home world.

We never dreamed that “stay at home” – would last as long as it has. And it is not over yet.

And as the weather turns nice, we ache for the next phase which will be one of tentative re-entry and with it a whole new set of dilemmas. We are like the explorers of old, trying to navigate a course in uncharted waters. Steer to the left or steer to the right? Your guess is as good as mine. Stay in or go out? See our grandchildren or stay home? Do I shop in the grocery store? Order take-out for dinner? 1st world problems – to be sure, but problems nonetheless.

Some of the challenges we face are truly profound. Every day mourners join our zoom minyan and seek ways to mourn their loved ones in a world that no longer offers the traditional means of comfort. At the graveside I stand at a distance when I want to draw near. A mask hides my face when I want them to know I share their pain. And how do we measure the pain of those in our shul and in our communities who have lost jobs and livelihood? Even our simchas have changed. I bless a Bar or Bat Mitzvah via Zoom, I stand with a couple under their hupah from a distance with just the immediate family and no friends. This is certainly not how it was meant to be.

The questions we all confront are more or less the same – maybe we can learn from each other. How much risk are we willing to take – how cautious do we need to be? How will we behave in the next few weeks and months?

We had achieved mastery over a world that, at least for now, no longer exists. We had developed skills that, for the next few weeks and months are no longer of much use. What good is the talent to preach when the sanctuary remains empty of worshippers? I know how to bring comfort at the bedside of those who are ill but I am no longer allowed in the hospital. And each of you can multiply these examples with similar ones from your own lives.

The world which we occupied, the world we had mastered no longer exists – at least for now.

How soon will that world, the one we were familiar with – how soon will it return? The hopeful amongst us yearn for a quick return to normalcy – the fearful amongst us are not so sure. Will we gather this fall by the thousands in our sanctuary to mark the High Holy Days? Like you, I have my hopes, and my fears.

As individuals we have done our best to adapt. In the old world we looked for misplaced car keys -in this new world we search for the Zoom link for our next Shabbat Service, meeting, or class.

We have learned a whole new vocabulary — as now I ask you to “please mute yourself,” and you understand. We have learned how to wear masks, wash our hands obsessively and even the youngest of us can measure six feet!

Just as a newborn needs to figure out how to navigate their new world, so we are all being called upon to find our way in a world we have never seen or experienced before.

And what is true for each one of us individually is true for us as an institution – as it is true for so many institutions like us: we too have our hopes and fears. Schools wrestle with holding classes on-line and hope they will be able to return to normal in the fall. Camps agonize over whether it is safe to open, as a result, our children have their hopes and fears as well. Hospitals hope to schedule elective surgeries. Our favorite restaurants hope to reopen? Will we ever sit in a movie theater again?

Hopes and fears.

We at TBS have worked very hard to model what a Kehilah Kedosha looks like in this time of hope and fear. Our Religious School and ECC adapted by creating new and exciting ways to learn and grow on-line. We moved our minyan on-line and we developed elaborate Shabbat and holiday Services via Zoom.  We are delivering flowers to those stuck in nursing homes and lunch for doctors and nurses at hospitals – just to show how much we appreciate them. We arrange drive-bys to let our youngest students know how special they are and we delivered gifts to graduating students to let them know we understand and we appreciate them – even if from afar.

Remember the days when we got hundreds of people on a Shabbat morning – joyously celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a baby naming, an aufruf? People gathered in worship, studying Torah, seeking comfort from a loving community as they said Kaddish. How comfortable will we be to sit in close proximity, singing (considered a far riskier transmission behavior than speaking) – making a l’chayyim at the kiddush, schmoozing in the lobby? “Well,” we respond – ” it won’t be like that – for a while.” To which I ask: “Then what exactly will it be like and will it be something that you will want to attend? This too is why we need to talk.

To our astonishment (certainly to mine)– Zoom Services have been quite fulfilling and meaningful. If you have not yet joined us for one – I truly hope you will consider doing so. There is a real sense of community, joy and celebration and yes, even kedusha,  holiness – in coming together on-line. Of course I would trade it in a second for what we used to have. But would I trade it for what might be in the next phase of the “new normal?”  Would you be attracted to a Service where people have to sit at a distance from each other, where attendance had to be limited? Where there was no kiddush or schmoozing in the lobby? This too is something we need to discuss.

And the idea of thousands of people gathered in our building for the amazing sacred experience we call the High Holy

Days – what do you think are the chances of that happening this fall?

What did Joni Mitchell say, “…you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone…”

How we took that experience for granted – the sheer amazing act of unity and sacredness – thousands coming together, becoming a holy community – the drama, the excitement, the joy, the familiar comfort of it all. We knew who would be sitting in the row in front of us even though there were no assigned seats; we knew when to leave the house to get there in time for the part of the Service we “needed” to be there for. We knew how to navigate the halls, the parking – we knew it all. And we loved to complain about it all – the crowds, the rush to get to shul in time for Kol Nidre, the “fashion show”, the saving of seats – we will miss all of these things that used to aggravate us if we are deprived of them this year.

“For the sin we have committed before Thee by taking so much of life for granted…”

Like you, I have my hopes, and I have my fears. I will spend the next few weeks and months hoping for the best and preparing for the possibility that the High Holy Days this year may be very different.

So this is the conversation we all need to have as we prepare to navigate the “new normal” of the summer and fall of 2020. I am giving it a title:  “What next?”

An informal conversation on the challenges we face, as individuals and as a Kehila Kedosha.

But I feel the need to offer you more than just an opportunity to express your hopes and fears. So I also invite you to study with me. As a student of Jewish history, as a student of torah, I believe that Judaism is uniquely qualified to strengthen our hopes and quiet our fears.

Even though we have never been here before – we Jews are the world’s hope and fear experts.

There is no other people in the history of the world that has had more reason to be fearful and less reason to be hopeful than we Jews – and yet – time and time again we found a way to quiet our fears and embrace the hope. From the moment Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden fear and hope was our story. We adapted and adjusted to each and every new challenge. Can you imagine how fearful Abraham was when he began his journey, leaving all that he knew to create a new world. How fearful must Moses have been as he took on the responsibility to lead his people form slavery to freedom? One can only imagine the fear that Joshua felt – following in Moses’ footsteps and charged with leading his people to the Promised Land. When the Babylonians destroyed our Temple and exiled our people we were so afraid – “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept…”  But, at our darkest moment the prophet asked: “How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a new land?” When the Romans destroyed our home once again in the year 70 CE – Rabban Yoichanan Ben Zakkai celebrated even as everyone else wept. While too many were paralyzed by fear, he saw the possibilities of creating a new world from the ashes of the old one. Moses Maimonides, Theodore Herzel, Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion – all masters of hope over fear. Certainly the Holocaust would put an end to us. With less than 20 million Jews in the world – how could we survive the annihilation of a third of us? But today we flourish – a vibrant people living and creating new lives and new possibilities here in America and of course in Israel. The story of our people is an on-going story of renewal and reinvention, of hope over fear. Is it any wonder that the modern state of Israel chose for its national anthem a song that has only one word in its title: Hatikvah – “The Hope!”

I want to share this all with you — an ancient wisdom for a new world. My class will continue for three weeks: Monday, June 1, Monday, June 8 and Monday, June 15.

Maybe, hidden in this terrible ordeal is an opportunity.

We have been forced to stop. But maybe we can use this pause as an opportunity to reflect and redirect our lives.

In the last few months so much has changed. As Roger Cohen said in a recent NYT opinion piece: “we have all moved from outside to inside, from consumption to contemplation, from global to local, from outward to inward, from stranger to guest, from frenzy to stillness.” (Roger Cohen NYT May 8)

These new things that he speaks of, the world of the inside, the world of contemplation, the turning inward and the need for stillness – this is what we Jews do best. Please join me as we study together. The course is titled: “A study of Jewish values for a new age – a reason for hope”.

None of us has to figure this out alone, none of us needs to decide alone, be alone. That is the whole point of belonging to a shul – it is the whole point of being a Jew. As we say at the end of each book of the Torah…we say … hazak, hazak, v’nithazeyk – Be strong, Be strong –and we will draw strength from each other!

Kol Tuv

All the best,

Rabbi Alan B. Lucas

To read more monthly news, read our most recent June_Bulletin_2020.