One year ago we found ourselves rapidly trying to make adjustments to our Purim Carnival and our Adult Purim Schpiel. Experts had already begin raising the alarm but, at that time, I don’t think any of us could have imagined what was coming. One year later more than 500,000 Americans, and a total of 2.5 million people worldwide, have died of COVID-19. All of us have been impacted by this pandemic, but the family and friends of more than 500,000 of our fellow citizens know a grief that goes even deeper.
At Shabbat services this evening my father’s name will be included on the Yartzeit list prior to reading Kaddish for just the second time. It is hard to imagine that it has already been two years. But it has. I cannot think back to two years ago. My father’s death was not unexpected. He had been declining for some time. But as far too many of us know, as much as we might thing we are prepared for a loved-one’s death, most of that preparation takes place in our minds. But grief is not an intellectual process. As a result, while we may be prepared intellectually, or at least believe we are, when death ultimately comes to a loved one who has been ill, it is often still a shock. That certainly was my experience two years ago.
But that wasn’t my only experience at the time. The outpouring of love and support was part of my, and my family’s, experience at that time as well. The sanctuary was fairly full during the service. And on each night of shiva my mother’s house was packed. It was comforting to have people around us. It was uplifting to be able to sit and hear stories about my dad. And it was healing to feel the hugs of people who were there simply to support my mother, sister and me. I will be forever grateful to all of you who reached out in myriad ways at the time.
Which brings me back to this week’s tragic milestone. The death of lovedone is always painful. The death of a loved one who quite possibly died because a pandemic response was completely mishandled makes it a shonda and a disgrace. There are millions of people in our nation who are grieving but do not have the benefit of the reposes my family and I received two years ago. Funerals have been small or entirely virtual. Shivas have been held via Zoom. And the warm, supportive hugs that can be so healing, have, as they should be in a pandemic, been in short supply.
That does not, however, mean we can’t be there for each other. And while the care and compassion we can show while socially distanced isn’t the same as being in person, it can still make a huge difference. I was reminded of that this morning when I received a text from one of our temple leaders. He acknowledged my father’s yartzeit and expressed care and support on a day that will forever be a difficult one for me.
One of the traditions connected to Purim is shlach manot, sending baskets of fruits and nuts to family, friends and fellow community members. When times are good, that simple exchange of sweets is a tangible reminder of how connected we are as a community. Doing so this year is a bit more challenging. So instead, I want to offer one simple suggestion. Before Shabbat arrives this evening pick up the phone and call four or five people who may be hurting. Reach out to them. And remind them that, despite the distance, we are still here to care and support one another. It may seem like a simple act of kindness but, as I was reminded two years ago, that kind of small, simple act is neither small nor simple. And its impact may one those you reach out to may be far greater than you will ever know.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen
PS: As we approach the one year “anniversary” of needing to close out building I want to take a moment to thank you all. No-one knew that the next weeks and months would bring after we closed the building. In a matter of days we had to recreate our entire congregational program and bring it on line. I am incredibly proud of the work the entire TSTI staff have done. It has truly been a remarkable achievement. But it has not been without glitches. The kindness, support and patience so many of you have shown has reminded me, time and time again, why this community is as strong as it is. It has reinforced my love and appreciation for our community. And it has reminded me why we all do what we do and our ability to bring healing and wholeness- Tikkun Olam- into our world.
We are beginning to see a potential light at the end of this long tunnel. And we are putting plans in place to respond to that light. As the weather warms, we will begin holding a series of small, socially distanced gatherings. And as the science allows it, we will begin moving into the next stage of this journey… together. But as challenging as closing the building and recreating TSTI on line was, the path to reopening will be even harder. The health and safety of all of our members remains our primary concern and, as a result, the steps we take need to be thoughtful and deliberate. Those steps are coming but we want to make sure that, once we are able to begin opening the building again, we are confident it will remain open. In the coming days TSTI President Max Weisenfeld will be reaching out to explain out thinking and plans in greater detail.
In the meantime, I look forward to seeing you at services tonight and at our Havdalah and Purim celebration tomorrow night.