A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 4.23.20

Apr 23, 2020

Go, my people, enter your chambers, And lock your doors behind you. Hide but a little moment, Until the indignation passes.

– Isaiah 26:20

Yehudit Berman pointed this verse out to me a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve had it on my desktop since then, and it’s been staring at me, wanting, waiting to be quoted.  It has a foreboding darkness to it: enter your chambers; lock your doors; hide.  But there’s a kind of happy ending: the indignation passes!! Hooray!!  To a large degree, at this moment, I’m preoccupied with the former, not so much the latter; though the “curve” may be flattening in New York, the longer-term prospects are looking grim, for Coronavirus, for the economy, for society.  The quote from Isaiah, however , is from a prophetic vision of redemption, when “Jacob shall strike root, Israel shall sprout and blossom, And the face of the world Shall be covered with fruit” (27:6). With eager anticipation, I say, once again, Hooray!!  

Here’s what we don’t know: how long CV will be with us, how long we will have to continue to socially isolate, when there will be a vaccine, what will be with the economy, whether the executive branch will ever rise to the moment (im lo achshav, aymatai? – If not now, when?), what will the social impact of all of this be?  And the list goes on.

Here’s what we do know: we have resilience.  We are, at our core, a community (yes, EMJC and yes, the larger communities that surround us) that has a giant heart, that looks out for one another, that cares, that does not leave people to fend for themselves.  Our synagogue community, old and young, studies and engages with words of Torah, passing on the values and principles that have kept our people united and focused for centuries upon centuries.  As Jews, we have always constructed institutions to support our way of life; when our ancestors first came to the Americas, they established synagogues and community centers, places to gather and worship and study and socialize.  But they also cared for the least among them, setting up organizations like the Hebrew Free Loan Society and the Hebrew Free Burial Society, modeling them on institutions that had served us throughout the diaspora for as long as anyone could remember.  The idea that lay beneath this extraordinary community organizing was that we are all in this together.  We have ever been, and we will always continue to be, a community, tied to one another through shared history and peoplehood.

Coronavirus is a test to the strength of our institutions.  Jewish schools, summer camps, charitable and community institutions, are all feeling nervous at what comes next.  But history has showed us time and time again that when we face adversity, we always overcome it.  

So enter your chambers, And lock your doors behind you. Hide but a little moment, Until the indignation passes. Together, we will wait for, and work towards the time when the face of the world shall be covered with fruit.

In our little corner of the world, on Ocean Avenue, we are continuing to be a presence in the life of the community.  Services and classes continue, Room J continues to Zoom along, and we have been supporting those in need by staying in touch, making ourselves available to help anyone in need, and providing religious services and opportunities to say kaddish.  Like most institutions in New York City, EMJC has already felt the bitter impact of Covid-19.  This past week, we bid a sorrowful farewell to Bob Rosenthal, beloved husband of Seema.  Many EMJC members attended the funeral on Zoom, and we had a strong showing of support at the shiva on Tuesday night, where I was privileged to be able to lead services and speak on behalf of our community.  In the meantime, and on a happier note, other Jewish life-cycle events continue as they should and as they must.  Eve Becker will become bat mitzvah over Zoom in a few weeks; Michael and Daphna Yudeluvich added a fourth child to their threesome of Noam, Boaz, and Adi (Mazal tov!!); and people continue to avail themselves of our Judaic offerings as well as those that have become widely available over the internet.  

This coming week, we will celebrate Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day).  With the help of our shaliach Tomer Gekler, we are partnering with the Jewish Agency and other organizations to have a full menu of online options for both of those days.  In addition, our own shinshinit Zohar Nahum (who along with all the other shinshinim returned to Israel in the face of the health crisis) will lead a program just for us over Zoom on Yom HaZikaron (this coming Tuesday) at 3:30; she will share the moving story of a fallen soldier from her own Moshav Timorim.  Please join us for that event. 

Other programs are brewing too, but we also understand that many people are settling into new rhythms, and that long (or even not-that-long) programs, classes, and events on Zoom are causing some fatigue.  We are keeping this in mind as we explore alternatives.  Keep an eye out for more Zoom links, and as always, if you have any problems or questions, you can reach out to Audrey at roomj@emjc.org or to me.

In the meantime, join us for Shabbat and daily services – it’s a great way to stay in touch with people and to remind everyone that we are still here, we are still strong, and we are all in it together!

Blessings for a Shabbat shalom u’mevorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.

Rabbi Sam Levine