A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 8.13.21

Aug 13, 2021


The long, languid days of August are in full force. The summer is winding down. The city feels a little emptier and a lot steamier. The COVID “vacation” that I wrote about a couple of months ago seems, like the summer, to be on its way out. The medical experts warned us in the spring that we would see a resurgence of COVID in the late summer and fall, and clearly, they were right. We are living a neither-here-nor-there existence at present – do I wear a mask outside of the house again? Can I eat indoors at a restaurant? Can I still hug the people that I finally started hugging a month ago? The “vacation” was not the end. We are still very much in COVID times, and the end (whatever that may look like) is not yet in sight.

I don’t know what word could possibly capture the zeitgeist: it would have to incorporate anger, sadness, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment, distrust, fear, confusion, (etc., etc., etc.), with little glimmers of hope, small joys, appreciations, moments of fortitude. We’re being asked to hold a great deal in our hands and in our hearts right now. Reminders of the weight we are bearing might go some short distance to lessening the burden: whatever you are feeling, it’s likely that we are all feeling it. It’s also OK that you are feeling it – it would be a wonder if you weren’t.

So this is what we carry with us as we enter the month of Elul. It’s a little hard to concentrate on repentance and forgiveness when it’s all we can do to get through the day. In our first Elul session this past Wednesday night, we tried to articulate (using only one word! – see below) how COVID was affecting us emotionally; we looked at some remarkable works of art produced by artists in response to COVID (thanks to the Washington Post); and we discussed liturgical responses to COVID – prayers and poems written to name some of our struggles. We ended with a look at Psalm 27, the Psalm for Elul. This psalm is recited twice daily from the beginning of Elul through the last day of Sukkot. In it, the poet begins with a voice of supreme assurance: Should an army besiege me, my heart would have no fear; should war beset me, still would I be confident. Now is my head high over my enemies roundabout; I sacrifice in [God’s] tent with shouts of joy, singing and chanting a hymn to the LORD (27:3,6). The second half seems like a different psalm altogether – the psalmist has lost all confidence: Do not hide Your face from me; do not thrust aside Your servant in anger; You have ever been my help. Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, O God, my deliverer. Do not subject me to the will of my foes, for false witnesses and unjust accusers have appeared against me (27:9, 12). This reflects the global mood – the whiplash of angst turned to hopefulness turned to angst again. 

Heading into the High Holy Days, after a year of so much travail, we might find a reflection point – a meditative landing – in the fourth verse of the psalm: One thing I ask of the LORD, only that do I seek: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life. What, exactly, is the “house of the Lord?” Perhaps we’re already in it, or perhaps the work is in trying to create it right here, right now. It falls on us to “turn mourning into dancing” (to paraphrase psalm 30),” to give shape to our experience and walk forward with determination, or at the very least to come to grips with how we’re feeling so that we can start the new year from a place of honest self-reflection. Let this be the work of Elul of 5781, so that when Rosh Hashana of 5782 begins in three and a half weeks, we shall have done much of the heavy lifting. 

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.

Rabbi Sam Levine

A few other things:

  1. Here is the list of one-word COVID feelings from Wednesday night: Grateful, Cautious-optimism, Stress, Adjustment, Deleted, Re-evaluating, Surviving, Unexpected, Nearly-depleted, Mourning, Prioritizing, Adjusting, Zoom, Incredibly Hard, Hope, Surviving, Chomping-at-the-bit. Join us next Wednesday at 7:30 as we continue to unpack the year and chart a path to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

  1. With the High Holy Days only a few weeks away, you might want to purchase a copy of the HHD prayer-book Machzor Lev Shalem published by the Rabbinical Assembly. This is the main prayerbook we will be using. We will also be announcing pages in the Silverman, but will mostly be following the prayers as laid out in the Lev Shalem.

  1. Marjorie Sanua has graciously volunteered to act as the synagogue’s liason with the Acosta-Molina family. The family’s status is in limbo, and getting work papers has proved to be a bureaucratic fiasco, so they continue to need financial support. If you are able to donate to the fund, it would be greatly appreciated, and it would be an act of tzedakah in keeping with the season. We are making a real difference in the life of this family. Debbie Nathan is also raising funds from the Jewish community in Austin, Texas, so we are not alone in supporting them. 

Marjorie has been visiting with the family on a weekly basis, working with the girls on language skills, reading, etc. She has been joined in tutoring duties by a number of other EMJC-member teachers (to be named when I have permission), and has forged a strong bond with the whole family. She hopes to keep us updated on a regular basis. Here is her report this week:

Thank you so much for your interest in the Acosta Molina family and your very generous donations of money, time, goods and services to help Katy, Misael, Nicol and Madai get settled. 

Since the family arrived in New York City, they have been living in Corona, Queens with Katy’s mother, stepfather and sister. Misael’s immigration attorney is completing all necessary paperwork required for asylum applicants to receive working papers and he is very eager to get them. Nicol attended school in May and June and has just finished summer school. She has adjusted well and is a very motivated student. Both Nicol and Madai are already enrolled in the bilingual program at their neighborhood school for September and are very excited about starting the new school year. Katy, who is expecting a third daughter in October, has been getting regular prenatal care at Elmhurst Hospital and is doing well. 

During the summer, several EMJC members (retired teachers) have been tutoring Nicol and Madai weekly (both in person and on Zoom) to develop their pre-literacy and social skills in both Spanish and English and help prepare the girls for school next month. In addition, I have been in regular contact with Katy and have been bringing donations of clothing, books, baby needs and other items to her weekly. EMJC has also been sending monthly checks to help with the family’s rent. Soon, we will be making plans to try to raise additional funds through an online platform so that we can continue to subsidize them. In addition, we have gathered most of the baby gear that Katy and Misael will need for the new arrival in October. 

At this point, the family needs:

  1. a bunkbed 

  2. bookbags and school supplies

  3. school clothes and shoes for the fall 

  4. a tricycle or bike for a five-year-old

  5. diapers and wipes 

  6. twin-sized sheets 

The Acosta Molina family tentatively plans to visit EMJC during Saturday morning services on August 28 and we hope that you can be there to meet them.

 If you have questions or wish to make donations of goods for the family, please contact me at mrsanua@aol.com. At this point, monetary donations can be made through the EMJC website or by check mailed to EMJC at 1625 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230 with the following memo note: “Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund – Acosta Molina.” 


Marjorie Sanua

EMJC liaison to the Acosta Molina family