I imagine that for all of us it feels that months, rather than a week, has passed since we entered into this strange and isolating time. Time has certainly taken on a different meaning as our everyday lives have been transformed. Of course, that transformation looks different for each of us: perhaps we are home with children, trying to balance working from home and meeting the needs of the family without a set schedule or routine; perhaps we live alone and are missing the opportunities for connection that we had counted on; perhaps we are worrying about loved ones who are at higher risk for severe illness from Covid-19, including those who are healthcare professionals on the frontlines of the medical response. No matter our particular situation, we are all disoriented and trying to get our bearings in an entirely new landscape, and we don’t know when we’ll be able to return “home,” to the familiar rhythms and to the acts of ordinary connection we once took for granted: Hugging a friend we run into at the grocery store; taking a long walk with a dear friend and talking side by side; going to a movie or a concert; going to services or classes at TOS or elsewhere.
Many of us have already experienced ways of connecting that have brought new and unexpected blessings. Last night during our “Gathering of Comfort and Strength” (we will be offering this kind of opportunity regularly over Zoom), some shared that they are in touch more frequently with friends and family as everyone is checking in with each other, or that the power of video conference calls has enabled dinners or hangouts with extended family or friend groups that never really happened amidst the hustle and bustle of regular life.
So, this new landscape on this seemingly other planet we’ve been transported to holds within it the potential for blessing, growth, and social contact and cohesion in a time of “social distancing.” Out of our enforced physical distancing a new kind of closeness is born. I hope that each of us will get to experience this over the time that stretches before us.
Time feels so different these days – not knowing for how long we will live with these new restrictions, and being rooted at home for work or other activities which are either moving into a virtual space or canceled altogether – can evoke a sense of rootlessness and confusion.
Our tradition is full of wisdom about noticing and marking the passage of time. Each week as night falls on Friday, we enter into Shabbat – a sacred pause when we step back from the noise and the haste and we are called to notice the blessings that abound and to simply be with those blessings; not to strive to work, to produce, to consume more, but to be present to our own souls and to those we love. Perhaps now is a time when “pressing the sacred ‘pause button’” is more important than ever. Perhaps we can take the time from Friday to Saturday night and make it set apart – holy – Kadosh – in some way. Maybe during Shabbat we can disconnect from the news, let go of the questions “how long?” and “how will we come through this?” and all of the other anxieties weighing on our minds and hearts, and immerse ourselves in that which transcends this moment, whether it is some kind of art such as music or literature, or preparing and eating delicious food, or sustained, face-to-face conversation with our loved ones, whether in our households or over a phone or video call.
Each week, we will join together as a community for live-streamed Shabbat services. Tonight I’ll be leading a service on Facebook live (www.facebook.com/ohabei) at 6 pm. The prayer book is also accessible online at the following link: https://www.ccarnet.org/public/mishkan-tfilah-for-shabbat/
Tomorrow morning, join Rabbi Schaefer for a discussion of this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel (no prior background necessary, and texts will be provided). Please see our website www.ohabei.org for the Zoom link to that session.
Tomorrow evening, we will also come together for a “Havdalah hangout” and mark the end of Shabbat with the ritual of Havdalah. (Zoom link will be on our website). By marking time together each week, perhaps we can feel more rooted in this time of disruption and amorphous, surreal time.
I, along with Rabbi Schaefer, our TOS Staff, and community volunteers, are committed to making this a time of renewed and deepened connections across our community. While we must remain physically distant, we can be close, and perhaps closer than ever before. I know that some of us feel very much alone even with the possibilities for virtual connection, and this is an exceptionally challenging time for those already struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
One way we are hoping to nurture this sense of closeness is by reaching out by phone to everyone in our community. We hope to speak with every member of TOS in the coming weeks, to check in on you and to see if you have any needs, to connect you to resources that may be helpful. We also encourage you to check in on one another – to pick up the phone and call someone (I have suddenly remembered the ad for the telephone company years ago: “Reach out, reach out and touch someone. Reach out, reach out and just say ‘hi’). Soon you will receive information regarding a congregational directory to facilitate these member-to-member connections.
In the past week (how can it only have been a week?!) TOS staff have worked tirelessly to provide opportunities to connect, in addition to Shabbat services and Torah study, adult education classes and gatherings of strength and comfort, Rabbi Schaefer and I each took a turn this week tucking our youngest community members into bed, virtually, by singing and sharing the bedtime Shema; TCEE teachers have provided story time and even a live broadcast from a working farm; ARS held a virtual tefila gathering; and there is so much more. We are dedicated to providing multiple touch-points throughout the week to enable community members of all ages and stages to see one another, to sing, laugh, or pray together, and simply to remember that while we are apart, we are still very much a community. I hope that out of these new and wide-ranging connections, our community will emerge from this surreal time, full of strength built of gratitude for the connections we’ve created and nurtured.