Pandemic Emails

Why Is This Passover Different?

An email to my congregation on April 7, 2020

Dear Friends,
As we get ready for the Passover Seder, I want to acknowledge how strange this year is. Why is this year different from all other years?

On all other years we gather in-person to celebrate the Passover in gatherings large and small. In this year all of our gatherings are small. 
On all other years we (relatively) easily procure the necessary foods for the Passover Seder. In this year some of us will not have the traditional foods. 

On all other years, the Seder is a time when we put away our electronic devices. In this year, the Seder may be on an electronic device. 

On all other years we come and go from our homes with little thought. In this year, we take special care when we leave our homes. 

When I say that this year is strange, and this Passover feels different, I am saying something so obvious it hardly needs saying. Yet by acknowledging this strangeness we incorporate it into the stories of our lives and of our people. The Seders of this year will become part of the history of the Jewish people, just as the Seders celebrated in secret in concentration camps, or in a newly established State of Israel have become a part of who we are. 

In some ways, we will try to make this year just like every other year. But we also know that this year is not like any other year. While we mourn the loss of our “usual” Passover experience, let us also celebrate the uniqueness and specialness of this Passover experience. 

May this be a warm and memorable Passover.
All the best, 

Pandemic Emails

Things are Changing

This is an email I sent to my congregation on March 31, 2020

Dear Friends, 
For those who want to skip to this week’s schedule of activities, you will find that at the bottom of this email. 
Another week has come and gone. Some things are changing, some remaining constant. 
As I write to all of you, I am struck by the ways in which this is both a shared and individual experience. On the one hand, we are all living through this period of heightened anxiety and (I hope) we are all taking increased precautions and curtailing the our elective activities outside our homes. On the other hand, each of us experiences this time in a way unique to ourselves. For those in the medical field, this time may be bringing an increased workload and an added urgency to our worklives. For others of us, teachers, professors and others, it has meant we are continuing to work, but how we do that work has shifted. Jobs we have been doing competently for years, we now need to relearn how to do. “Other tasks as required” has suddenly become the most important part of our job descriptions. 
Some of us have no doubt seen our employment or livelihoods threatened by recent events. There may be additional, unwanted, time on our hands. For others, the additional time may be welcome, a chance to take on new projects. Some of us are trying to figure out how to cope with children who are now around all the time, making decisions about how much structure is useful and necessary, and what things just don’t matter at the moment, or are battles not worth fighting. And many, if not all of us, have cancelled plans, whether trips, celebrations or something else. 
And looming over all of our experiences is the overwhelming uncertainty. How long will this last for? Which plans and contingencies enacted in the first weeks of this situation need to be changed? When can we resume planning for the future?
One of the earliest plans I (and the ritual committee) made was around the Passover Seder. Not holding it in person was the easy choice. Originally, we planned to gather on Zoom as a wider community for candle lighting and the first kiddush. After that, we planned to suggest that everyone continue with the seder at their own tables. That no longer feels like a good fit for everyone. Our current plan is begin as initially intended, with candle lighting an kiddush, but then offer people the option of continuing their own seders offline in their own homes, or to continue on Zoom through the rest of the seder with me. I still don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we wanted to make sure that no one was doing the seder alone. 
As is clear, this is an evolving situation. We are evolving with it. If you have thoughts about how we can better serve you, please feel free to let us know. 
All the best, David

General Jewish Spirituality spirituality

The Passover Story: Release from Constraint

The Jewish holiday of Passover begins tomorrow night (Wednesday, April 8th) at sunset. It celebrates the Israelites’ going free from Egyptian bondage, and is one of the most important holidays of the Jewish year. Yet there is another layer of meaning in the exodus from Egypt, that is apparent when one looks at the Hebrew. “Egypt”, in Hebrew, is mitzrayim, which comes from the root meaning “narrow” (presumably because Egypt was a long narrow country settled around the Nile river). Yet from this same root, comes another word tzarot, or the more familiar Yiddish, tzurres, meaning “troubles.” The idea is that when one is that troubles constrain one in narrow places. When one comes out of troubled times, one is released from the tightness.

There is a long tradition in Judaism of looking at the going forth from Egypt (mitzrayim) as symbolic of coming out of troubles. It is a metaphor that has been often used around depression and other emotional troubles. It has also been used to symbolize economically hard times. For all of these, Passover serves as a reminder that there is the hope of release from bondage, whatever form that bondage takes for us.

This year, many of us are very aware of the economic contraints we find ourselves in. Others are dealing with sadness from family situations. All in all, there are a lot of us who are feeling beset by our problems at the moment. We struggle with worries about what the future will bring, and sadness over opportunities lost.

Passover is the opportunity for us to assert that redemption from our problems is possible. Coming in the spring, it is a holiday of rebirth, reminding us that even though we may feel trapped at the instant, new life is beginning, new opportunities constantly presenting themselves. Whether we find the message of a Divine force who liberates us from our troubles comforting or whether we see that as a fairytale we cannot believe in, the holiday itself celebrates the ability for humans to overcome obstacles. Whether we view God or Moses as the liberator, we can celebrate liberation.

For me, this year in particular, Passover serves as a reminder that troubles are surmountable. For me it is a reminder that we are able to overcome obstacles and barriers. That there are forces in the universe which help us accomplish things we believe we cannot do. I call those forces God. Others refer to those forces as “luck”, or “friends”, or “the universe.” The words we use do not so much matter as does the fact that we acknowledge that sometimes life is too challenging for us to fix by ourselves, yet solutions may appear when we most need them.

May this Passover season be one of rebirth of hope and of freedom. May we all go from bondage to liberation, and help others to make the same journey. The Israelites did not leave Egypt as individuals, but as a mixed multitude 600,000 strong. Together, let us all go forth.

knitting Rabbinic WorkPlace Spirituality

Life's Full

Life feels busier than normal recently. A few of the measures:

  • I’m not posting here as much as I have been recently.
  • I realized yesterday that it had been weeks since I’d been over to Ravelry.
  • I feel like I’m constantly running behind.

So where is all of my time going?

A few items I have been doing a little more of recently:

  • Gardening. The seeds have sprouted, and many have been transplanted. Also, as I mentioned last week (I think), I got the front yard cleaned up.
  • Passover: Getting stuff ready for the congregational seder last Sunday took more time and energy than I expected, somehow.
  • Preparing for Weddings. The summer wedding season is coming up, and I’ve been meeting with 1 – 3 couples a week in preparation for upcoming weddings.
  • CubeSpace. We’re getting ready for a big open house on May 14, and trying to get the word out about that.

In between all of this, I’ve been doing a little knitting, trying to keep my sanity in place. I’ve concentrated my knitting on a single project for a while now, since I felt like I wasn’t seeing any progress on anything while splitting my time between my 4 projects. I’ve been working on Eva’s socks, and am finally up to the ribbing on the first sock (it’s a toe-up design). I switched to the magic loop method of knitting recently, and am finding it nice, especially in terms of not losing stitches off the needles when I shove them in my pockets.

In a nutshell, that’s life of the last week or so.

Jewish Spirituality

Thoughts on Passover

I’m trying to get into a Passover mindset, but I’m really having trouble with it this year. Eva and I have been so swamped we haven’t really done much about cleaning out the house. All of a sudden, we realized yesterday that seder was in 2 days (first seder is Saturday night). And we hadn’t begun to make plans yet. So, over IM, we planned a very simple seder menu in about 20 minutes. I’ll probably test drive the congregational seder service for Sunday night at our home on Saturday night. Somehow, it all feels a little ignored.

But. . .there is also something about it that feels distinctly right. The seder is suppose to recall the exodus from Egypt, which took place in a great rush, as the Israelites departed in a great hurry, hoping to get out while the getting was good. “They left with the clothes on their back. . .” Somehow, this last minute scurrying in some ways feels reminiscent of that original event.

Most years, preparation for a seder means days of cleaning, followed by days of cooking. It was surely the case that this is not what refugees fleeing in the night did. There were no elaborate plans, simply a need to move quickly and get out.

This year we will celebrate the Passover seder with a minimum of fuss and bother. We will have a few friends join us, and we will celebrate the freedom we have. We often think of that freedom in terms of freedom to practice religion, but in modern America, it is perhaps worth noting that it is also freedom not to practice religion, or to practice it in a way which feels appropriate at a given time.

For all you who are about to celebrate Passover: May it be a wonderful holiday, filled with exactly the significance you need it to have this year.

Jewish Spirituality knitting

Fighting the Urge to Cast On

I am a somewhat distractible person. Well not necessarily someone who feels the need to constantly run after new and shiny things, I can certainly be, ummm, how shall I say this. . .sidetracked from my main focus. It should, then, come as no surprise that I am something of a polyamorous knitter. Unfortunately, the more projects I have going at once, the more slowly they all progress (isn’t that just the oddest coincidence?).

Passover is coming up, and I find myself wanting to cast on a few new seasonal projects: a matzah cover (a ceremonial cloth envelope into which the matzah is placed during the Passover seder). It’s not that big. . .can’t be much more than 12 inches to a side. . .that’s barely bigger than a swatch. . .I’m sure I could whip out something in the next week or so. . .

But no. I have 4 active projects (well, 3 active projects and the second sock of a pair that hasn’t been cast on yet). That’s really enough for the moment.

Someone recently suggested I knit a cover for my rabbi’s manual, since the paper slip cover it came with is beginning to show “signs of wear” (read: it is becoming increasingly shredded). It’s small book, how long could it take?

Again, restraint. If I keep adding projects, I’ll never finish the projects I’m working on. And so, I continue to work onward on a shawl, a bedspread, and two pairs of socks. To the exclusion of any other projects that might look interesting.