March 2021 Bulletin Ref2

From Our President…

This semester, as I opened the term for one of my all-online classes, in addition to asking my students about their future plans, I asked them to tell me, if they could, one silver lining of their pandemic experiences. This was merely a ploy on my part to get them talking and listening to each other, but the results surprised and moved me. Almost all are young and at the beginning of their adult lives. Yet their responses showed a wisdom and grace far beyond their years. Here are just a few of the things they reported:

“I have learned to slow down and take the time to think and reflect about things.”

“I have made an effort to build my connections with the natural world and appreciate it more.”

“I’ve been at home with my family. My relationships with them have deepened.”

“I have become more flexible and more able to deal with major changes that life throws at me.”

“I feel like I am more kind and connected to my community.”

What a striking counterpoint this proved to be to the dominant narrative of college-aged folks as being unconcerned and careless about COVID-19! I was particularly touched because over the last year, so many students have had their lives and the lives of their families upended by the pandemic. Many now face a much more uncertain future, yet they are finding within themselves the courage to grow from their experiences and look forward with hope. While their life journeys took an abrupt turn in an unexpected direction, they are finding and saving the good things their journeys have provided.

As you read this month’s bulletin, we anticipate our great festival of freedom, Passover.  Like last year, this year most of us will celebrate Passover in a far different way than usual, watching family members asking the Four Questions possibly from four (or more!) far-flung locations on Zoom. Some of us will feel not just the pain of distance, but the pain of loss. But we are in a different place now than last year, when most of us could not have imagined that rather than “next year in Jerusalem!” it would be “next year on Zoom again!”

We learn from the Passover story how a people accustomed to slavery had to flee Egypt and take up a new, strange, and difficult life in the wilderness. The map shows us that it should not have taken the Israelites 40 years to travel in a straight line from Egypt to the Promised Land, even if Moses didn’t ask anyone for directions. The 40 years of living a disrupted, uncanny life, isolated from others most of the time, helped the Israelites to forge a new identity as free people and to come together as a unified community with a purpose. They also experienced unexpected blessings along the way, like Miriam’s inexhaustible well of pure water and the manna and quail that they only had to gather (not even with an Instacart!) to provide sustenance.

As vaccine distribution speeds up, viral transmission slows, and more of us become eligible for protection, our journey through the wilderness will soon come to an end. As we celebrate Passover, we can see the Promised Land over the horizon. While our journey through the pandemic wasteland will not have taken 40 years (thankfully!), we are all eager to leave this desert behind. Perhaps we’ll even think of our traumas and woes as the chametz that we eliminate from our homes, giving us a sparkling clean, fresh outlook on the reopened world of personal human connection we will soon enter.

I’d like to encourage you, though, to think carefully about what you want to bring with you out of your desert. What are your silver linings? Can you treasure and possibly even keep them active in the future?

We’ve been through a difficult time, but there may be important practices and insights that we’ve reached that should survive our wandering. As a congregation, we haven’t acquired anything as all-powerful as the Ten Commandments, but we have developed a lot of creativity and flexibility with digital tools and alternative programming ideas and platforms. We’ve acquired new ways to connect with people from distant locations who can bring us valuable ideas. We’ve deepened our commitment to social justice issues, taking that work into new spheres of engagement. Many of us have tuned in more closely to our online community and learned that taking the time for these encounters enriches our lives. Our committees and leadership will be looking for ways to keep what we have learned and bring it forward into the future. All of these things will be great resources as we prepare for our congregational future.

While we are still a few weeks out, I wish everyone chag sameach as we enter a spring of hope.


Julie Novkov

B'nai Sholom Albany NY