FROM OUR PRESIDENT…
As I write, I’ve just listened to Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s daily briefing concerning COVID-19. It’s hard to listen to these briefings. Every day, McCoy and Elizabeth Whalen come out and report distressing statistics on our county crisis, marking losses and warning that things are likely to get worse before they get better. They beg our county residents to stay home, use good hygiene, wear masks and avoid exposure. They know, though, that even as they say these things, a handful of people watching on Facebook are posting comments denying the severity of the crisis, brushing off tragic losses as being inevitable due to age or poor health conditions, and sullenly refusing to take precautions because of misguided beliefs in their freedoms. We stand at a difficult moment, poised between the fear of what is to come and the hopeful sight of a vaccine. As we stand here, we see on one side acts of extraordinary sacrifice and community support juxtaposed against acts of willful ignorance and selfishness.
Public health experts warned us that the nation would face the most difficult and destructive public health crisis it has ever endured on the national level. We have seen this prediction come to fruition in this darkest of winters. As we have faced this crisis, we’ve done so alone in many regards, with many of us physically separated from beloved family members and friends but consumed with anxiety on our own and their behalf. Yet at the same time, we have been comforted by the actions we have taken to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, and now we can see a tangible future, when a vaccine will be available and competent plans can be developed to deliver it in an efficient and equitable manner.
This period coincides in a curious way with our Jewish calendar. Like many major religions, we mark the darkest time of the year, celebrating Chanukah when the days are the shortest and even the moon hides its light. We celebrate in fiery defiance, commemorating our refusal to bow before forces that appeared to be overwhelming. With our chanukiot, we signaled visibly to ourselves and the world the growth of light and joy even in the darkest and most difficult moments. This year, Chanukah carried an additional message for us. The origin story of the holiday has the Maccabees celebrating their victory over the Seleucid Empire by rededicating the Temple and observing the communal Sukkot festival together in joy a few months late . . . when it was finally safe to do so.
Looking ahead, the upcoming holiday this month is the minor holiday of Tu B’shevat, the new year of the trees. In our generation, many Jews have infused this holiday with a new sensibility of environmental awareness, something that probably works a little better for Jews like us who live in climates where no one is planting any trees in January or early February. This year, though, we may also be able to see Tu B’shevat as a moment of positive anticipation, when the seeds of our recovery and restoration are planted, and we can begin to heal from our long and difficult journey.
What fruits can this year bring to us? What can we cultivate in our own lives and in the life of our community? We have done so much in the last several months to recreate our communal life and make it meaningful and vibrant. I hope that as you read these words, you can think about these questions in ways that help you to envision a better time coming soon. We will, like trees, look forward to sprouting new leaves and branches. We will also keep the ring of memory we have made this year close to our hearts and save with gratitude the good things we have learned about ourselves and our congregation through this crisis.