A Ner Tamid at the End of the Tunnel

by Arliene Botnick, May 27, 2021

On March 17, 1772, Daniel Defoe published “Journal of the Plague Year”, describing the plague that happened in 1665 – 1666 in London. A number of books had been published about plagues but his journal, though a work of fiction, was based on well documented facts, and has been a guide for understanding not only how a plague impacts health but also how it impacts our humanity. A great city, London, had been visited by a dire calamity, and how would it citizens come out of that ordeal? How would they behave towards each other and towards God? That was Defoe’s, the journalist’s, focus. The great plague of 1665-66 ended with thousands upon thousands of deaths and though Defoe did not live at the time of the plague, his writing makes you believe that he was there.

Now we can come to our plague, the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021, and in comparison to 1665-66, it hasn’t been, comparatively speaking, nearly as destructive . But that is no comfort to those that have been stricken with COVID-19, or to those who lost their lives or their loved ones to COVID-19 or to those who are the long haulers, or to those who lost their businesses, their livelihood, to the pandemic. And like Defoe, it would be interesting to think about what humanity has learned from this most recent pandemic, what has changed, what has remained unchanged and what is our relationship is to one another, and our relationship to God. Medically, what we have learned has been amazing. Vaccines were available quickly; distribution eventually worked well in most places; citizens have been wise enough to get their inoculations when they became available. Some of the restrictions have been difficult, especially on small business, but the powers that we elected to govern us felt this was the best way to keep all of us safe. Our synagogue obeyed the regulations, opted for safety and the health of each and every one of us and we have remained closed over the past 16 months. Rather our building has remain closed. Our synagogue has remained open. Our house of study (Beit Midrash), our house of prayer (Beit Tefillah), and our house of meeting (Beit Knesset) remained open to all! We kept doing what we are supposed to do. We had our weekly services; Hebrew school and religious school continued; learning sessions and adult classes carried on; special programs took place and we invited many guest speakers in our virtual shul.

We love our synagogue, but it far more than just a building. Wherever we meet as Jews, we are creating our virtual synagogue. Our children have become bar/bat mitzvah and we’re able to include in their simchahs close relatives from across the globe simply through the magic of technology and the magic of our volunteer Joel Brown, and the care and dedication of all our teachers and bar/bat mitzvah tutors, and with our Rabbi whose beautiful voice, whose faith and kavanah and leadership kept it altogether. We weren’t in the sanctuary in person but we were all there as a kehillah, a community, as we watched and participated in services that were there before us on our screens. Many of us, both adults and children, “videoed in” our service parts to emulate our participation, as if we had been actually present. And it was wonderful.

Now, hopefully, we are looking at the pandemic coming to an end. God willing, with enough vaccines, and people willing to obey simple, easy to follow restrictions, like wearing masks and keeping our distance if it is still expected, life will get back to a little bit more of the normal we are used to. And now the lessons of a pandemic. We saw the best of people and sometimes, unfortunately, the worst. Let’s focus on the best! Members of our community set up phone chains to keep in contact with those who were alone and who might need some extra help. They helped one another book appointments, helped drive people to appointments for the inoculation, and on many occasions, drove food over to families in need. We continued to be together and be supportive when there was a loss in our community. Shiva minyans took place online, but they continued as our families struggled through loss. This is not been easy for any of us and sometimes I understand when people ask, “Where is God in all this?” Let’s answer them. God gave us the ability to figure out how to get through this. God gave us the tools, the ingenuity to discover the vaccines, to work on what was the best way to control the pandemic. God gave us the medical personnel and the first responders to help us, direct us, to take care of us. God gave us faith in a better tomorrow.

We haven’t done it perfectly but I really believe that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now. I’ve hope we’ve learned from this that we can survive, and that the best way to survive is to support one another, to be thankful for all the help we can give one another, and to give that help with a full and open heart. This has been a difficult year and I did not keep a journal like Defoe, but I think we all will remember what we have endured, survived and overcome. Let us continue to be strong as a community and to meet headlong all the challenges that may be in store. Everyone stay healthy and see the light, the ner tamid, the eternal flame, that will lead us out of this tunnel.

Filed under: Educator's Message

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