By: Maurice Krystal
This morning I could feel my anxiety as we drove off to visit our son, our daughter-in-law and their nine month old daughter, Cici. Her real name is Cecilia but I like the shorter version that says ‘yes, yes’ to me, and it also recognizes her Central American Spanish heritage on her mother’s side. We have been keeping in touch mostly by Skyping and using the phone during the pandemic. A few times we visited and sat in their small backyard and talked and watched our granddaughter sit in a small plastic pool and laugh. We had to park near the end of their block and go through a back laneway to avoid going through their house. We maintained social distancing and while we were dying to hold her, we waited patiently for months.
I did respect the parents’ desire to protect their baby. These are not normal times. My wife was chomping at the bit more than me. She has friends in a similar situation and the family bubble had been extended some time ago. Last week she got into a tiff with our son on the phone. She was trying to get a specific time for a visit, and he barked at her to ‘back off’. She was offended and said to me later, that this behaviour was unacceptable. It will have to be discussed. I have a long history of never liking to rock the boat, and hating confrontation. It led to some bitterness between us as we discussed how to best proceed. I hate being called a coward.
They live in Verdun on the ground floor of a triplex, which has the curved metal stairs on the outside of the structure, leading to the upper floors. It is typical of the blue collar area built up in the 1920’s and 30’s. Young people have been moving in the past few decades, raising their young families, and pushing up the rents. Investors have been gobbling up these properties at bargain prices...but that’s something I don’t want to get into. It will only side track me and I’m easily drawn off topic.
We had last visited on Mother’s Day, over two months ago. We had walked to a nearby park by the St Lawrence River and had a picnic at a table carefully disinfected. After eating our packed lunches, Nadia, our daughter in law, asked Sheila if she would like to hold her granddaughter. Sheila was so surprised, her face turned beet red and she started to tear. Sobbing she took Cici into her arms and held her. The infant looked at her mother for an instant and started to cry.
Sheila rocked the child and sang to her the very tunes she sang to our young sons over three decades earlier. It took awhile for our granddaughter to calm down. The discussion with our son and daughter-in-law turned to the topic of what the pandemic is doing to the psyche of the very young. Nobody holds the baby except the parents. Separation anxiety will be more intense and how will the children cope when they are left off in school for the first time.
Cici calmed down after fifteen minutes of songs and rocking, and hand clapping, but she kept her parents always within sight. After a short while David asked if I would like to hold her and I declined, saying I didn’t want to put her through any more distress again. I regretted that decision almost immediately. I told Sheila, as I was driving home, that that wouldn’t happen again.
We were at the very same picnic table as last time. The routine of cleaning the table, watching Cecillia eat, taking out our own meals, and then Nadia and David asked Sheila if she would like to hold her..
“I think your father will hold her first,” Sheila immediately said.
David picked up his daughter and handed her to my awaiting arms.
“Be careful, she’s twenty pounds.”
As I reached out from my sitting position to take her, I realized she was half that size when I last held her six months earlier.
She squirmed in my hands and her feet found my thighs. She was standing with my help and turned to look at her mother. Her eyes were squinting shut and a few seconds later the tears and crying started. I moved my heels up and down, watching her body rock. Her parents and Sheila were singing ‘’The Grand Old Duke of York” and I kept the beat. I was determined to not give up. It did not take as long for Cici to settle down as it took Sheila two months earlier. I was proud of myself that I kept my resolve. When I passed her to Sheila, Cici seemed to allow “strangers” to hold her, though she eyed her parents every so often.
The afterglow of the picnic was still making me feel on top of the world when we arrived home. I was on the computer looking at the weather forecast over the next few days. Suddenly a notice appeared on the screen. It warned me that our limit of our internet usage was approaching our limit. I had never seen this warning before.
I went on the My Bell site and found out that indeed the month of August was a busy time on the computer for Sheila and myself. We both must have spent hours on Skype, Zoom, Facetime and Discord, communicating with people. We also watched some movies on Netflix and of course we have to hear what is happening with the world of politics and be shocked at how low Trump can go.
My first reaction was to get an unlimited plan. Afterall, our Zooming and Skyping has increased because of Covid-19. It’s a temporary thing. It says a lot about what we have become during the pandemic. Sheila and I promised each other that we would cut back. But the next morning I was back at my usual routine with my cup of coffee scanning CNN, CBC, MSNBC, and Fox (to get the other side) news sites.
"I thought you were cutting back,” my wife reminded me as she walked into the kitchen.
“I won’t look at this stuff for the rest of the day. Just twenty minutes in the morning.”
But I knew this was lame. I had forgotten. Turn on the kettle, log on to the computer, it was as natural as taking a breath. You don’t even think about it. I turned off the computer. Who really gives a shit what Trump is doing this morning. It only will aggravate me. I have to admit to myself I’m an addict. It’s only marginally better than smoking cigarettes, or taking painkillers. Maybe there is a seven or ten step withdrawal program. Maybe it’s a good thing there is an online limit. Maybe if we had unlimited, I would never realize what was happening.
The next morning the call came at 7:10 am, while I was having coffee and reading a book. A bit early, and like late calls, (After 10:00 pm) I worry that something bad has happened to one of our sons. My wife berates me and says I’m a pessimist. I respond with, “I’m a realist” but she’s undoubtedly right.
After I say “Hello”, there is a pause, and then a taped man’s voice says he’s from the Canadian Revenue Agency.
“This is to inform you that there are some serious issues with your tax return and you are being audited for tax evasion. If you wish to clear up this issue immediately, press one.”
The voice sounded surprisingly angry. I was temporarily frozen. Then I thought about it I suspected this was a scam. This does not sound the way a government agency would act. A tape? It’s all too vague. Our tax returns have been handled by the same accountant for decades. It did not smell kosher. I hung up.
Later, I got mad. I don’t like being used or taken. How did they get my number? Is there an “Old Geezer" list somewhere with my name on it? Seniors are the most vulnerable to Covid-19, and now we are threatened with this as well. Mans’ inhumanity has no limits. I’m lucky I still have a few grey cells that function, but I did freeze. It’s only a matter of time when I’ll be taken for a ride, I’m afraid. Maybe my wife is right, I’m quite pessimistic.
By Bryna Rosman Rubinger
What stands out to me about these last months of adapting to the pandemic, is how I have learned, at an advanced age, to really understand the meaning of gratitude.
Of course, I was taught good manners at an early age, to say “thank you” to send “thank you” cards, and so on.
But, to really feel a profound sense of gratitude is something I had not really experienced until the arrival of Covid.
And much of this acquired sense I owe to my interactions with my co-congregants at Dorshei Emet.
I have been overwhelmed, since the beginning of the lock-down in March. by telephone calls enquiring about my health, to offers of help with anything I might require -shopping, appointments, driving and so on. From a message from a new-ish ( to me) Board Member called Chaim Colman, to welcome Emails, and to a personal phone call from President, Elana Cooperberg, at one point, urging me to attend each of my parents’ Yarzeitim on the Shabbat ‘Zoom”.
There, on one Shabbat, I was fortunate also to attend an extraordinary Bat Mitzvah.
I don’t remember the wonderful girl’s name, but I was overcome by this memorable event. She, from her living room, reading from the actual Torah scroll taken there from the shul, telling her story of her family’s coming to Montreal, and her parents and brother surrounding her in the intimacy of their apartment, her father thanking us for coming to their “simchah”, while someone in their own home (in Israel?, I believe), singing Hatikvah at the end, accompanied by a guitar. The intimacy generated during these events, unscripted, and genuine were a revelation.
These acts of kindness alone were reassuring. But, what gave me a profound sense of gratitude was “attending” the two days of Dorshei Emet’s Zoom Rosh Hashanah participatory services last week.
I was moved by seeing Archie Feinberg on the bima in full regalia singing,- in the same familiar melody,- the part of the Musaf service that I so associate with Hillel Becker. I was touched hearing, and seeing Mark Berner, praying prostrate before the ark. I laughed out loud seeing Mark Bassell, pre-recorded, blowing the Shofar on Shabbat in the sanctuary. And, yes, I felt truly IN a sanctuary.
I marvelled at Rabbi Boris technically orchestrating all this, and the “technical” (and office) “crew” behind the scenes, being able to marshal the resources to divide us on line, at home into groups of 4, to discuss how the pandemic has altered our lives.
It was all life-affirming and positive.
It has been an unforgettable Rosh Hashanah.
And, I am truly grateful to be part of this community.
By Bernie Weinstein
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic we had very exciting, meaningful and interesting lives. We had retired many years before and after years of hard work our retirement years, our "golden years", were the best that they could be.
We were busy with our friends, walking in the Mall as members of a walking club, bowling in a league, volunteering at the Jewish General Hospital and at JPPS, visiting and sharing meals with our family and friends as often as we could, and after many years, finally joining Dorshei Emet and it's active, interesting community.
And of course, we went on cruises and got to meet new people, see new things and explore new and old places. We had 4 cruises planned, including taking our grandson on his post-Bar Mitzvah European cruise in July.
Our lives were full; we were happy.
We went on a cruise in February, out of Port Liberty NJ. Our ship was delayed for 3 days because they thought 3 passengers might have had the "new coronovirus". They tested negative, although given what we later learned about the accuracy of these early tests, I'm not sure. In any case, we had our first coronovirus experience.
During the last six months, our lives have changed. No cruises; we cancelled all our cruises and have finally received the payment we applied for on April 7. The walking club was closed until late July, but we went walking outside at least once a day, and I lost 10 pounds! No bowling. No volunteering at the JGH or JPPS. And no in-person classes or services at Dorshei Emet.
But Dorshei came through via Zoom! We attended classes and services on-line. But we still missed seeing and touching, physically and spiritually, our friends and our community.
Thank G-d for Dorshei!
There is an old Jewish saying (translated), "Man plans and G-d laughs".
She must be having a kinipshin fit over this COVID crisis.
By Shara Rosen
There is no doubt that these are trying times – nothing but absolutely nothing is as it should be. To say that the world around us is topsy turvy is an understatement.
Yet it is an invitation to respond to this upheaval with perseverance, patience and compassion. It is also an opportunity to show our children how to face adversity with hope, love and humanity. Together with family and friends we wade through the turbulent waters with the courage to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
Thank you to my Dorshei Emet family that strengthens my community ties and that helps me look to a light at the end of this corona tunnel.
By Saul Ciecha
In my experience the Covid-19 period is still hard. At the beginning it was even harder.
In part, because I had to learn to cut out of my life the natural habits of human contact and free mobility, while incorporating a measure of caution toward everything.
I was terribly uncomfortable with the unknown nature of the future, being afraid of a downward spiral or a worsening quality of life for humankind.
Then the lifestyle became much simpler and more basic.
And then, just before Rosh Hashana a transformation happened when I realized that I was still happy with many less things, while loving the few remaining things. The big lesson for me was to appreciate everything I have.
And starting a New Year with a feeling of gratitude and appreciation, that’s a great way to start!!
Of course, with an important dose of hope.
By Vivian Squire
The news in January from Wuhan, China about hundreds of thousands of people dying from a new illness called Covid-19 was a shock. It was hard to believe that so many people were dying across the world and in such a horrible way. The images on the television of sick people dying in stark, make-shift hospital rooms, attached to huge respirators was also very hard to bear. I could almost feel their pain, their fear and their panic. I prayed for them, hoping that somehow they would get through this horrible trial.
News came out a few days after the pandemic hit China, that Covid-19 would be spreading around the world – it was unstoppable with no cure, or vaccine available. Horrible news to hear. I felt gripped with dread and fear. This triggered a memory I had about my late maternal grand-mother, Lillian Ross, who had survived the Spanish flu of 1918. However, her first child, Deirdre-Marie was not so fortunate – she succumbed to the disease at the age of four. My grand-mother was heartbroken. My grand-mother also lost her first husband in the First World War. Two huge losses in a short time. She met my grand-father, Rolland Montague Squire five years later and they fell in love and got married. Lillian had four children with my grand-father: my father, Monty Squire and his three sisters Dorothy, Helen, Elizabeth. My grand-mother had a good family life, however, she never fully recovered emotionally from the loss of her first child Deirdre-Marie. The loss of Deedee Marie (her nickname) left a scar on Lillian's psyche that never really healed. Lillian consoled herself with her Catholic faith and community, as she cared for her new family. I never met my grand-mother, as she died suddenly at the age of 56, but my father's stories about her life made me feel that I knew her in some way.
In Mid-march of 2020, the Covid-19 virus hit Montreal with a vengeance. Lock down of the city would soon follow on March 27. The hospitals were already full of patients succumbing to the illness. Long-term care facilities were being hit the hardest. Fear and dread took hold of everyone, including me. I was starting to understand the terror that my grand-mother Lillian had lived through 102 years before. It was a sort of déjà vu, even though I had not lived through the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 personally. I was hopeful, however, that things would be different for me compared to my grand mother's experience. After all, modern medicine has made huge advancements since that time. However, despite these advancements there is still no cure for Covid-19 and no vaccine available. Now the mad scramble has already begun with doctors and scientists from around the world racing to invent a vaccine. The clock is ticking, as the second wave begins here in Montreal and around the world, and the number of cases of Covid19 is rising ...
How have I managed to cope with this pandemic, compared to how my grand-mother Lillian coped with The Spanish flu? I too have turned to my faith – the Jewish faith in my case. How does this help me to cope and deal with the fear, stress and uncertainty of these difficult times? I have a wonderful rabbi, Rabbi Boris Dolin as my inspiration and my teacher. I connect on Zoom with a warm community of people who have so much wisdom and life experience to offer. I have the Torah and the Talmud and countless Jewish texts and teachings to learn from and strengthen my hope and determination to get through this crisis. Many Jews have dealt with terrible loss and adversity in the past, and they overcame it, against all odds. I have hope and faith that I can do the same. I don't know for sure what will happen – I am not a fortune teller, but I can use the “tools” at my disposal to improve my chances of surviving and thriving.
Besides the Jewish faith and community, I have also learned to appreciate the simpler things in life, since this pandemic began. I go for walks almost everyday in my neighbourhood of Snowdon and in my community of Côte des Neiges. I also take occasional walks in Westmount and Downtown. I am much more aware now of the people I see and who I talk to everyday. I often take these walks with my partner Barry Nadel. We have grown closer as a couple talking about everything from news, to Jewish holidays to art and politics. We walk together like two soldiers in the battle of life … I notice everything now, when I'm out walking – those who wear masks, those who don't; those who look happy, those who look sad, or miserable. I see the little babies with their innocent joy and I see the teenagers with their hope and youthful energy; I see the middle aged people doing their best to cope with all of the pressures of work, family and finances and I see the elderly, bravely stepping out with their masks on, doing their shopping; or stopping for a coffee at their local café. Everyone seems to be holding on to some kind of normalcy, even if it isn't always there.
I am also looking at nature in a different way now. The seasons used to come and go and I was often too busy with work, or volunteer endeavours to notice them. Now I am aware of everything that is happening in nature. I see the little sparrows, starlings, cardinals, bluejays and crows in my back yard everyday. I have been giving them seeds and small pieces of fruit to eat (grapes and blueberries). They are so energetic and joyful and they have no idea that a pandemic is ravaging the human race. They sing their beautiful songs and chatter to one another, happy to be alive and up in the lovely trees.
I see the squirrels scurrying about the yard and playing with each other. They are starting to collect nuts and seeds to store away for the long winter ahead. The leaves on the trees are beginning to change into their beautiful fall colours of yellow, gold, orange, red, rust and much more. Nature seems to know just what to do at the right time. The sun rises and sets each day with its beautiful magnificence and the wind blows and sometimes the rain falls. It's all so rhythmic and harmonious, unlike the human world right now.
I have grown closer to my elderly parents, Elizabeth and Monty Squire; but from a distance. I call them every second day to see how they are doing and have long conversations, mostly with my mother about everything from the pandemic to politics and home cooking. My father can only talk briefly, as he has dementia with aphasia. My brother Eric has been visiting my parents twice a week and bringing them groceries and medications. I have kept my distance, as I have chronic health conditions which make me vulnerable to Covid-19. I also live in a high-risk area, so I do not want to bring the disease to my parents on my clothing, or belongings inadvertently. It is strange not to physically be with my parents, but my need to protect them and myself is greater than my need to see them.
My mother and father imparted great wisdom and life experiences to me over the years. They lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Life was not easy for them, but they somehow managed to survive and thrive. They grew up wearing second-hand clothes and eating root vegetables and fruit preserves in the winter. Oranges were a winter treat, which were hard to come by. Rationing happened during the War and butter, chocolate and meat were hard to find. My mother told me about her horror at the age of 13, over the dropping of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima – she felt that this was a great crime against humanity. She also spoke of how she deplored the Holocaust and how the Jews and other victims were tortured and killed by the Nazi's. She taught me about social justice at a very young age.
Since my father was a war veteran, he was able to receive free tuition from McGill University and become a Mechanical Engineer. My mother studied social work at McGill, working every second year at Eaton's Accounts Office to pay for her studies. Life was not easy for them, but they made the best of it and thrived and raised my brother and I. They were patient, determined and survived and thrived, despite the odds. These lessons I learned from them, help me to cope with the challenges I face today with a pandemic raging around me.
I flash back now to the memory of my grand-mother, Lillian Ross and I tell her in my prayers that I will survive this pandemic somehow. I let her know that I have a new Jewish soul (I converted a year ago) and the experience and the wisdom of my Jewish fore-fathers to guide and protect me through this time of great trials and tribulations … and Hashem is with me always, showing me the way ...
Ma Tovu ohalechi…..
How goodly is my tent….
When I was required to return early from Florida last March I did so with some reluctance and a lot of apprehension. The entire idea of isolating myself and avoiding others seemed unusual. However after a few days of staying in my home, which has been my haven for 54 years, I became quite glad to be here.
The fact that I had a garden to tend and enjoy has given me great satisfaction.
Later it became the venue for socializing at the prescribed distance. Friends and relatives were able to join Ron and me for afternoons in the sun accompanied by home baked goodies from recipe books many of which were newly dusted off and put to good use.
“Zoom “ entered our vocabulary and we started to use it as a verb, noun, adjective and catch-word to describe a form of communication we never knew existed until now. In fact I decided to use the Zoom platform to celebrate my milestone birthday.
My original birthday plan went out the window along with many other tickets to theatre, concerts , hd operas and lectures.
However what I gave up in the original Montreal plan to celebrate was excitingly made up for when I hosted relatives and long standing friends from 7 States, 4 Provinces and even Australia. My 72 guests included 2 babies, not counting my grand dog. Dear cousins in Sydney, Australia joined at 2:00 am with a toast!
In a more practical mode the time at home has given me the inclination to tackle long awaited projects such as culling papers and books and unneeded stuff.
This is still a work in progress…..
All in all I appreciate the comfort of my home and all that I have to keep me safe and occupied. Ma Tovu
By Shelly Fabian
The drive home was nerve-racking. Stopping at rest spots was chaotic. Overnighting at hotels we wiped down everything. Food was take-out, tasteless and cold. We felt as if we were at war with an invisible germ. Our ammunition was Lysol.
After our two-week quarantine at home, we moved to our Eastern Townships cottage and stayed there for six months. Stress free, clean air, long walks, no grocery hoarding happy neighbours and thanks to the internet, all the Zooming in the world.
I had always been curious about last century’s Spanish Flu, to the point that I had once questioned my grandmother about it. She was living in Austria during that time and told me that it never reached her city. Now I understand every thing I need to know about that pandemic because of this one.
What has changed me? I am definitely feeling more Jewish than ever in my life. Through the miracle of technology I attend more Shabbat services, enlightening talks offered by thought-provoking Dorshei Emet members and even global conferences in Italian from Sicily. Check-in phone calls and Shabbat meals during quarantine allowed me to greater appreciate my Dorshei Emet community. Most importantly is the weekly comfort I derive from Rabbi Dolin’s positive messages.
On a personal level, a book I have been writing for almost 10 years is close to completion. I made it my Covid-19 goal.
I ask myself what the Spanish Flu experience really would have felt like for my
19-year old grandmother and her family, with barely a telephone?
It is not about what we cannot do during the pandemic; it is about what we can do in this age of advanced electronics.
By Sheila Caplan
One of the first things I noticed as the pandemic began to unfold was how it affected my ability to continue doing what I have always loved to do, and done with great passion for over 40 years: making pottery in my studio. I had never imagined a time when I would not feel like doing it. As winter was ending, staying home to be safe became the prime concern; life revolved around ordering essentials and learning to navigate the online world. We had to be content with Skype visits to see our new granddaughter. Making pots felt superfluous, and with all the anxiety around Covid, my creative energy for clay simply evaporated.
But then other doors began to open - Zoom brought fascinating talks and discussions from Dorshei Emet and other places as well; more time to read those interesting articles and books, and join a book club; virtual fitness classes replaced live ones; opportunities to experiment with recipes; and learning about how to plant that new vegetable garden. When the warmer weather finally arrived, I couldn't wait to get those seeds and seedlings into the earth! With the cancellation of my usual schedule of pottery and craft shows, I was able to take full advantage of the bonus free time, the first in 20 years.
Like many others, my concept and perception of time has changed during these months. I feel a greater sensitivity to its passing, a heightened awareness of the cycle of the seasons, as we measure what life was like "before" and how it is evolving so rapidly from one day to the next. Perhaps this sensation is heightened for me now, as I
enter a new decade.
I have always appreciated having a backyard and garden, but this year it went beyond that, to being ever so thankful and grateful to have a place where we could comfortably and safely socialize, as well as be creative and productive. Knowing that we are facing a long, lonely and uncertain winter indoors, I savour every moment of it now, even as the days get shorter and the air is cooler....and when it gets too cold, the neglected studio awaits me.
How will I feel going back? I can't return to "business as usual" when nothing else is the same as it was 6 months ago. But clay is such a projective medium, it is sure to reveal to me how I have changed.
Submitted by Barry Lazar
Via a friend, however I concur:
Happy new year, everyone (a few days belated, owing to my lack of religious zeal) . Here's a dose of Cummings, as close to prayer as I'll get:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
By Ami Sands Brodoff
On Pesah, we ask: “Why is this night different than all other nights?” The past six months have been different than all other six month periods during most of our lifetimes. This Pandemic is dark, painful, and full of irretrievable loss with close to a million people dead worldwide as I write this morning. The marginal are hardest hit. Many that recover are left with sequelae from Covid-19, breathing difficulties and lung damage, problems that do not clear up once fever and cough have subsided. This Pandemic has been especially stressful for me as a mother because my eldest son, Tobias, is in New York City, a final year medical student. He was called to the front lines by Governor Cuomo this past spring during the worst of the first wave and served his community. In July, he came down with Covid-19. Mercifully, he is now recovered as the Pandemic rages on. Still, and yet, I try to think of what we can do rather than what we cannot do. Of course, I miss hugs, seeing friends, attending concerts and plays, travelling the world, spending time with my sons and other relatives. All of this is on hold for now. I must be still. Shelter in place. Yet, crisis and opportunity are often inextricably linked. As a novelist, being still, bum in chair, is the ideal condition for productivity! I vowed during lockdown that I would not squander this time. Despite sadness, extreme anxiety, and immense distraction, I’ve been imagining into and writing into my sixth work of fiction, the novel, Treasures That Prevail. You may recognize the title from an Adrienne Rich poem, “Diving Into the Wreck.”
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
This is my mantra. I now have 200 pages of my novel. I have hope for a vaccine. I have hope for the future. I know once again I will see my kids, my relatives, hug my friends. There will be light … once again.
By Maurice Crystal
Got out of bed at 6:30, late for me. But I had tossed and turned fighting demons. I knew immediately what it was all about, which is rare. I had gone for a walk yesterday in the afternoon. It was nice and sunny and my 4K route takes me by the local elementary school. It was 2:30 and the children were streaming out, hundreds of them, into the arms of hundreds of parents. The crowd of humanity froze me in my tracks. I could feel I couldn’t enter that mass of humanity, masks or no masks. I turned around and found another way home.
It isn’t the first time that has recently happened. It was the past Sunday afternoon, another nice day, when Sheila and I went to Trudeau Park. A religious ceremony, part of Rosh Hashanah involving the tossing breadcrumbs into water, was to take place. I had never seen it and I was intrigued. We met some fellow Dorshei Emet members by the man made lake and chatted as we waited for the 4:30 prayer to take place. More people kept coming, not all wearing masks.
Soon the three feet personal space had shrunk to two. Sheila was the first to voice my nagging emotions. “This is getting too crowded” she complained. We left.
I’m short and when I’m around six footers, I am close to their armpits, yet I have never felt uncomfortable in crowds. I like to schmooze with strangers, but the pandemic has made me fearful. When the plague is over and the High Holidays will see the return of the congregation to the building, will I have that initial panic? It still happens to me when I enter an elevator and the memory of an incident that took place in the Sun Life Building some seven decades ago when the car plunged a dozen floors before the emergency brakes were engaged. It has left a scar.
By Liz Freedman
10. Pre-COVID I was not the thorough handwasher that I thought I was. It turns out that 20 seconds is MUCH longer than I realized.
9. I can cut my husband's hair with clippers and wash & style my 90 yr old mother’s “hairdo” (neither perfectly, but good enough to be seen on Zoom).
8. I can hold a full Torah service in my living room for my son to become a Bar Mitzvah.
7. I can be creative and adaptable (who knew!) in finding ways to mark milestones and celebrate birthdays and holidays while still holding on to rituals and family traditions.
6. I enjoy entertaining much more outdoors when I know there is little chance of anyone seeing the inside of my house - I’d rather prepare duplicates of each dish than tidy-up my house!
5. I can work effectively from home but also discovered that it quickly grew old for me and that I was ready to be back in the office.
4. I dread having to plan for 3 at-home meals a day, every single day, for 4 people (ok, maybe I highly suspected that one beforehand…).
3. I really do enjoy the company of my 3 family members “living under one roof” - we could still make each other laugh after months of being cooped up together.
2. While I deeply and achingly miss weekly Shabbat dinner at my parents with 3 generations of in-town family squished around the table, I cherish lighting candles and making kiddush in my own home, with those generations in front of me on the screen.
And the #1 thing that I learned about myself during the pandemic:
1. In order to accomplish most of the above, I need to rely on other people.
There is an irony in realizing that confinement is not about turning inward and being self-sufficient but rather it is about looking outwards and being open to asking for help. It can actually be the opposite of isolation. I needed someone to coach me on how to style hair and I borrowed the clippers from an old friend that I hadn’t seen in ages; I needed my extended family to make Passover and Rosh Hashanah truly feel like the Holidays; I needed my Dorshei Emet community to create a virtual congregation before whom my son could stand.
It is true that no (wo)man is an island - we need community to not only endure but to thrive.
By Leigh Dolin
In March, we travelled from our Burlington home to our condo in Montreal to attend Dorshei Emet’s Purim party. We returned to Vermont the next day and the world shut down. The border closed. The virus was out of control and we didn’t know if we would live or die. It was scary. In times like these, Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” And they were everywhere—nurses, doctors, police, firefighters, store clerks, teachers, parents—the list goes on and on. And, isolated in our homes, we found community on Zoom, in smiles and kind words from behind masks, in reaching out and being reached out to. So now we are in the chronic stage—it’s not so scary but it’s frustrating and we are impatient for it to end. What we have we learned? What do we want our world to look like when it’s over? Life is precious. We can find godliness in each other but we must seek it out. There is too much lack of compassion in the world. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together. And together we must work for a better world, a world where there is no “they” but only “we”.
What an opportunity we have been presented with during this time of the Pandemic. A time to recalibrate, reset, and think about what we want to be sure to keep in our lives. An enforced housekeeping, if you will. This is a luxury that those of us who are healthy, and in kind, loving, and respectful relationships can take the time to put into action.
I have learned that I am more patient than I thought. That the communication with family , friends, and community that happened spontaneously in the past , is still fresh and enjoyable when , out of necessity, becomes more calculated and scheduled. That I miss being able to do nice things for others. I learned that much of my daily joy is in finding ways to make life easier, happier, more fun for others. I will now have to find other ways to do that that don't involve dinner invitations , concerts, theatre and in person visits.
I know more people in my Dorshei Emet community. I have loved, and been inspired by, the on -line presentations, the Torah study, and the time to read more carefully the weekly bulletins from the Shul.
May we all be encouraged to stick to the protocols, look out for one another, and remain healthy and in positive spirits to keep ourselves , our families, and our community strong through these unusual times.
By Gaby Orbach
Truth is a deep kindness that teaches us to be content in our everyday life and share with other people the same happiness.
By Lori Rabinovitch
I am very happy and not at all worried to re-enter the sanctuary for in-person services sometime in the near future. It goes without saying, of course, that I would wear a mask and maintain an appropriate social distance from others.
When I recently voiced this desire to a board member, I was told that because the philosophy of Dorshei Emet is one of egalitarianism, and because not all members of the congregation are equally able or willing (due to age, fear, pre-existing health conditions, etc.) to attend in-person services, this option cannot be offered at all. I understood from this that, until everyone can attend in-person services, no one can attend in-person services.
This is not egalitarianism. This is sameness. They are different concepts. Let me give you an example: when the Olympics only welcomed able-bodied athletes, this was discriminatory to disabled athletes. Opportunities to participate were not equal. With the introduction of the para-Olympics, disabled athletes were given an equal – but different – opportunity to participate in this global event.
If we can combine zoom services with in-person services, we are offering different but equal opportunities for everyone to participate. This is much more consistent with our underlying philosophy of egalitarianism than insisting that the synagogue remain closed until everyone can participate in the same manner.
By Mona Klein
While I don’t believe in a “micromanaging” God, I find myself feeling gratitude for a special moment. It could be a funny joke which makes me laugh, a burst of sunshine, a warm hug, a phonecall from an old friend. And I say to myself: Ahh. God is helping you. God wanted you to have this feeling. God saved your dish from breaking apart when it fell to the floor. Special moments are soothing. During our Zoom Rosh Hashanah services, I felt this gratitude and relief often. I am grateful.
By Rosana Caplan
The pandemic has left very little space for spirituality – for me it has been constantly and almost exclusively about action. So much to plan and take care of, so many people to keep track of and check-in with, so much information to sort through and transmit in a timely fashion. And then, in a thank you card received from an organization we support, the following: “The only identifiable feature of hope is action”. Sometimes it is not contemplation but the work of our hands that keeps our spirit whole.
By Natalie Amar
Many years ago, my parents retired full time in Florida, with their children living in different cities…. what used-to-be just a simple flight away. Luckily, my parents know how to operate a computer (let’s leave it at that!) and like many offspring, once COVID hit, I was able to coach them through downloading Zoom. Notwithstanding the extra grays this added to my curls, my parents really enjoyed tuning in to our wonderful Dorshei speakers. As September rolled in, it suddenly became clear that this would be the first Rosh Hashanah ever that my 82-year-old dad would not attend synagogue. Of course, I had considered inviting my dad to our Dorshei services, but I hesitated because his synagogue practice is so different than mine. While I’m a super proud and active (board) member of Dorshei, my very traditional parents, or usually just my dad, attends his own South Florida kahal, where he sings Sephardic melodies and reads with a beautiful and distinct Sephardi accent. I asked around and did the usual Google searches for Sephardi congregations anywhere in the world offering virtual services -- but came up with nothing aside from a renewed appreciation for the completeness and clarity of our own shul’s website.
Dorshei seemed like the most practical answer here. I warned my dad that the melodies would be foreign, that it might all seem different and distant to him, that it would be challenging to follow the English passages, that some of it might seem too kumbaya - but if he and my mom only got to hear the sound of the shofar, it would be something to mark the holiday.
In what seemed like only minutes after my email landed at 18 Cleve, our incredible office staff sent off a Machzor by express mail. Maybe it was the High Holidays, or maybe it was Dorshei, but the mail gods (not to be confused with the female gods) cooperated and my dad was excited to receive something so meaningful by post. Both my parents genuinely enjoyed all three services, and alone in their Florida condo, they were able to feel the holiday spirit.
I also felt connected to them. I called my parents before each start time with tech support, and after patiently (ok, not always) walking them through each step, was suddenly able to hear Rabbi Boris’ reassuring voice coming through the computer on the other end of the phone line! During services, Mark, my little girls and I searched for my dad’s small box on my screen gallery, looking to see if he was still there, managing to follow. There’s Papi! My heart burst as I could see his lips moving, reciting the prayer along with the voices on the screen. Yom Kippour is the one day a year my parents do not use any electricity whatsoever. I remember a house so still and quiet. But our world has changed this year. My dad is looking forward to putting on his tallit with all of us again on this holy day - and has asked me already a few times if he will receive the link, if I will help him connect. Worth every single of my new gray hairs.
By Audrey Berner
During the Breakout Rooms on Rosh Hashana Day 2, I was with a group where only a few people shared anything. There was a mixture of sharing feelings of sadness, loneliness and isolation.
I compare that to my experience which, surprisingly, was not a downer at all. In fact, I feel that I will come out stronger on the other side (whenever that will be).
I had made a list of "Lockdown Chores" - and have completed most of it. I had a chance to slow down and think about goals and needs. I took courses and chatted on-line with family. I taught school classes with unexpected benefits.
Granted we could not hold our granddaughter; we could not attend the funeral and shiva for Mark's sister in Edmonton, we could not celebrate any events with family, but there were so many upsides.
The family "Zoom" shiva was shared by people in four cities and two countries - who would not have all travelled to Edmonton even if they could have. Family celebrations became well planned and highly anticipated picnics adding importance to the events.
OK. No upside to seeing the granddaughter from a distance.
To me, on-line Judaism became very important and I found myself involved in courses and practice that I might have not done otherwise. Aside from the weekly Daf Yomi, which I was doing before Covid, I enrolled in a Mussar course through the Institute of Jewish Spirituality and met people from all over North America with whom I shared ideas, argued and explored ideas. The course ends this week, but my Hevruta group (located in St John's, Newfoundland, Montreal and Palo Alto, California, has decided to study the eight Middot all over again to increase our understanding.
Also, During the Rosh Hashana services, I found the time to focus on the Machzor, something I don't usually do. I read commentary, wandered off into directions of inquiry, discussed issues, practiced my Hebrew. What an opportunity.
I guess life is what you make of it; experience is what you take with you. I hope that I will continue to feel that this hiatus in our lives has been a benefit to me, to my family relations and to my practice.
And maybe I will soon be able to hug the baby!
By Pnina Gagnon
We each have a wave, moving in its rhythm, in the sea, a lake or a season. we have the power to float, swim or dive, even to sink. The good thing is that each one is in his / her wave but when we try to question the state of an old friend, maybe a non swimmer, we may encounter her motto: "Aging is like taking care of a ruin".
Today for the first time in many years I quit my wave and told her - "you always say the same thing". It is the new year and the truth is that she knows nothing about ruins nor taking care of anything, but this will be for next year.
By Hymie Orzech
As I sit in my apartment alone but not alone. I know through the Dorshei Emet community, friends, and most important is family, that I am not alone.
When walking I realize that I am in a country that most people are kind to others for example:
I went and bought some take-out, when I got home, I got a call from the restaurant saying that they forgot to give me some items, so I went back and pick it up. Also they gave me a free drink.
Sometimes bad things happen, then I remember all the good stuff that happen to me and I feel good.
This pandemic may bring out the few bad apples but what I have seen and experience there is a great more people who are much better than those uninformed persons
By Maurice Krystal
Monday, September 21
I knew today would be a slower pace after two days of celebrating Rosh Hashanah and visiting people and worrying about keeping the proper social distancing. For the first time in my lifetime I spent the High Holidays at home; watching a computer screen. I didn’t think I would enjoy the services, but after a while I relaxed and got drawn in. It is true that a movie isn’t the same as a live performance in a theatre, but both have their strengths and weaknesses if you surrender to the space. I enjoyed it and was thankful that my community cared enough to protect our health.
I woke up this morning at 5:00 am, which has been typical the last four or five months. My sleep pattern has changed and my dreams are more disturbing. I have become a light sleeper. I am lucky to be able to look out my living room window and see Meadowbrook Golf Course. At 5:30 the dew covered grass sparkles in the first hint of light. I drink my coffee and watch our local groundhog digging in the sand trap for something. It may be the same one that devoured our kale. Sheila was upset and plugged all the holes that the animal burrowed through, but I don’t like kale and I can’t get mad at an animal that is trying to survive.
I suspect in the early morning I am my most mellow. Live and let live. The birds are chirping and a cloud of white seagulls drift onto the fareway. Nature is intoxicating, but then I turn on the news and hear Donald Trump wants a quick replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I shouldn’t listen to the news!
I would like to say that I have spiritual meaning to all the things I have experienced through this pandemic. But that would be a lie. I have tried to keep it all in perspective, and have definitely been able to that, most of the time. However, there have been times, many, over the last 7 months, that I have completely lost all faith in the system, in humanity, in everything.
I suppose if I had been at work all this time, and keep my mind occupied with that, I wouldn’t have felt so overwhelmed by everything in the news; horrible displays of systemic racism, politicians who are liars and cheaters and full of themselves and full of s**t, social and medical systems that let “the people” down, and various other less potent issues.
I’m not typically one to dwell on the negative, and every day I go for my quiet walk with my dog and find one thing that brings me joy. I try REALLY REALLY hard to focus on the positive, to find the perspective to acknowledge that I have it better than most. I have my health, I have my family, I have a home, I have food, I have heat, I have the community and I have my dog!
Clearly I am of two minds – which is I guess how I keep on going. There’s all that negativity, and then there’s all that I’m grateful and thankful for. Hopefully one will calm the other and bring about some peace.