Connecting Meaningfully

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, May 27, 2020

Dear Solel,

It has been eleven weeks since we last gathered together in our building. Purim was the week prior, and what a freilach Purim we had this year! Since then we have celebrated Pesach on livestream and shared our 2nd Night Seder together on Zoom, displaying our Seder plates with somewhat unusual elements this year. We have observed Yom HaShoah and Yom Haatzmaut, and traversed the Jewish calendar from Seder to Shavuot, counting the Omer on our journey from slavery to Sinai. We have gotten creative and inspired to try new and different ways of doing things, different ways of connecting. Bet Sefer has been singing together each Sunday on Zoom, and our classes are meeting with their teachers. We have weekly social Solel Zoom gatherings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have formed a deeper connection to our sister congregation, Darchei Noam in Ramat HaSharon, Israel. Thanks to Joel Brown and his tech wizardry, we have been able to include Torah chanters and guest speakers in our livestream services, our Kitah Alef class led services on our livestream, and we celebrated our first “virtual” but very real bat mitzvah! Phone calls and snail mail have made a comeback as life moves in a different rhythm, a rhythm without long daily commutes to work or school. Our attendance at online services, classes, programs, and committee meetings is up! Maybe it’s because it is easy to attend services when you don’t even need to leave your home. But we also realize how essential is it to connect meaningfully to community during this time of physical distancing and isolation.

Much as we would like to gather in person together, we realize that is not likely in the near future. As epidemiologists learn more about the Covid-19 virus, and its mechanisms for community transmission, it has become evident that faith centres are one of the more efficient places to spread the virus. Think about our usual gathering for worship: people who are friendly with each other gather in an enclosed space, sit in that space together for an extended period of time, and then hug and share food together. A note also on singing: Singing appears to be among the riskier behaviors when it comes to spreading droplets/aerosols which can carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air, and the size of these droplets are small enough to pass through cloth masks. The acts of singing, the familiarity of people across households, the multigenerational community of children, youth, adults and seniors—the things that make our congregation so special—also create more risk for spreading the virus. As our leadership works on phased reopening plans, we are guided by science and health directives, and by our highest Jewish values.

Yes, this is hard. Yes, we miss hugging and greeting one another in the building. We are social beings. It is not easy to be stuck at home. And meeting together in large groups to rejoice in times of celebration and to support each other in times of sorrow also has mental health benefits. It is hard to be told that these coping mechanisms—which really are healthy in normal times—aren’t wise right now. But, right now, the most important mitzvah we can observe during this pandemic is that of Pikuach Nefesh – saving a life. Our actions directly impact the health and well-being of our neighbours and so it is imperative that we make choices that keep our congregation and larger community safer. When we can safely hold in-person services, we know that we will cherish one others’ presence more than ever.

The wisdom of our Jewish tradition implores us that the mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh, preserving life is the highest mitzvah, and that we must not endanger life needlessly. Yes, synagogues, and churches, and mosques and temples are essential. All faith centres do provide essential services to our faith communities and to our wider community. We provide meaningful ways for people of faith to gather in joy and sorrow, to learn and pray, to express our beliefs and celebrate our traditions. We work to feed the hungry and protect the vulnerable, and we encourage our members to bring our Jewish values to bear in the world to create a more just and compassionate society. In these frightening and uncertain times, Solel’s mission has never been clearer. We are essential, and we continue to be open in the ways it matters at this precarious time—access via livestream, and computer and phone and prayer. What is essential is life. Our congregation is our people, not our building, and each person is unique and irreplaceable, created in the image of God.

In this challenging time, there is also much to be grateful for. We are together, connected while physically apart. We are learning and stretching our creative powers and finding innovative ways to do what is essential and meaningful for our Jewish community. I cannot say enough good things about the members of our Solel leadership team and staff. We are fortunate to have clear-headed, imaginative, hopeful, practical leaders who are working hard on behalf of Solel. I am also very grateful for all of you who are taking on many important mitzvot to keep our Solel community connected and to support our wider community in this time – our teaching staff, our mitzvah committee members, our Sisterhood, and all of you who are reaching out to one another and to your neighbours.

Stay safe and healthy. During this time of physical distancing, we carry each other in our hearts.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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