2020: Accentuate the Positive

by Roselyn Allen, December 31, 2020

Another secular year has gone by. One would hope I could look back on last year’s blog to summarize 2020 in a similar way to 2019, but this has been a time like no other. Some may say it’s been a terrible year, and for many it has been. But with the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year has just passed, and as our recent Chanukah celebrations have taught us to rededicate ourselves and shine light into that darkness, I choose to reflect…to reflect the positives onto the negatives, to find the opportunity in the impediments we’ve been faced with.

2020 started out as one would expect; Bet Sefer classes resumed with the hope to avoid many snow days. We had a January bar mitzvah and Sisterhood, on the tail of a successful holiday campaign for Interim Place, participated in a shabbat service. We had Class Shabbats and Family Shabbat and our February Invite Your Neighbour service that saw Solel within the larger Mississauga community. And meetings – so many meetings. I look back at the calendar and see how Solel’s building was bustling.

It was just around this time that we were hearing of a new virus in China, very contagious and deadly. It was not the top headline of course. We feared the US was about to start a war with Iran. And one of the most famous basketball players in North America had died tragically in a helicopter crash, and that was a big part of the news cycle for weeks it seemed.

Just as March was approaching, as we were planning our Purim spiel, the news about this new Coronavirus moved to the beginning of the newscasts. The GTA felt echoes of SARS (my son was born in 2003 when hospital visitors were limited due to the virus – a memory that has certainly stuck with me this year).

People began to cancel their March Break holiday plans and Solel had an amazing turnout for Purim. It felt like community was where we all needed to be, as if we knew the severity of the lockdown that was about to happen. But, just as when Queen Esther told the king about Haman, we had to conquer our fears and name the threat – COVID19 was upon us.

We did not return to Bet Sefer or public school (longest March Break ever!). B’nai mitzvot were postponed as we were no longer allowed to gather in our own building. Our special projects, fundraisers, maintenance – were all put on hold.

We had to find new ways to celebrate. The board regrouped. Rabbi Pollack and Arliene Botnick made things work for services (thanks Joel!) and school. We Zoomed. We livestreamed. We called to check in on each other. We found ways to meet, even if not to physically be together.

But Passover – that’s a big holiday. Let’s face it – you might let Yom Ha’atzma’ut have a pass online, but Passover is a time filled with ancient traditions. It’s hard to cook Gefilte fish or Brisket for 5 people when you’ve never done Passover with less than 15. But we figured it out. We regrouped. Zoom Seders became a thing, and like millions of Jews before us who had to pull it off in much worse conditions than COVID, we celebrated our Exodus from Egypt.

And we even managed to have Solel’s Annual General Meeting online. What we thought was going to be a technical nightmare in March, turned out to be pretty straightforward once we got things in place. And we had a great turnout. In fact, board and committee meetings weren’t so bad – sometimes we could start earlier because people didn’t always have to get home from work, since the commute’s not so bad for those working from home.

Because the synagogue building was closed, we were able to carry on our online programs with no interruption when the renovation of the lobby and bathrooms began. This project is almost complete, and hopefully we’ll be able to use them soon.

We managed to hold B’nai mitzvot again. So much for hall rentals and chair lifting – but we learned to focus on our kids’ achievements in different ways. Again – thank goodness for Zoom and livestreams, and the technical skill to put it all together into a meaningful program.

We learned to mourn despite the circumstances. When I lost my dad this summer our Shiva was held distancing ourselves from others outside my brother’s home, and to include my Nova Scotia family, they FaceTimed in for prayers. Many of us have attended Zoom Shivas – certainly a different feel than we would have mingling amongst family and friends of the bereaved, but a comfort nonetheless.

We managed to hold a beautiful High Holiday service schedule despite being apart – we were even able to deliver holiday bags to all our congregants. We made things work despite the challenges. There was something poignant for me about being able to reflect and atone with so much missing of what I traditionally expected from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

We were able to celebrate our Sacred Spaces project despite being outside our sacred space. Hopefully, it will remind us all to treasure it even more. Our Torah Project launch was a great success, as were our Chanukah services. I particularly enjoyed our Zimriyah, despite the fact that Zoom doesn’t always bring my voice to the fore.

So here we are, starting 2021. We don’t have to worry about snow days since public school is online again for a few more weeks, as Bet Sefer has been all year. Though our ICUs are filling, there is hope with our first group of vaccinations in recent weeks. Renovations will soon be complete and we will be ready to welcome you all back into our Sacred Space, to celebrate in person.

But we won’t necessarily give up on some of these Zoom meetings. We have been incredibly lucky to be able to adjust smoothly and affordably to communicating despite social distancing, because of one person in particular. Joel Brown has led us through all these technical challenges (amongst the many other responsibilities he’s taken on at Solel), and put together beautiful programs and services, all with a degree of selflessness I am amazed by. I want to personally thank Joel for getting us through these adjustments smoothly and for turning Rabbi and Arliene into Zoom mavens.

2020 has shown us that Solel can not only weather any storm, but grow and become stronger because of it. May 2021 offer us not quite so many challenges, and see us back in the shul!

Filed under: President's Message

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