A Changed World
I was in New York on a
short business trip a few days before Purim.
Early one morning, I received an unexpected call from my Shul chair to
say that a group of scientists and medics in our community had advised that we
cancel all forthcoming social events including Shabbat kiddushim and Purim
parties. We were slightly ahead of the
curve, although in common with other communities across the globe, by a few
days after Purim, we had held our final minyan. That was just five weeks ago,
but it might as well have been five years ago.
Since then, the Coronavirus
pandemic has changed every aspect of communal life, creating new norms none of
could have imagined a short while ago. It
has also had an extraordinary impact on the life, role and expectations of
rabbinic leaders, something compounded by the suddenness of the changes and the
proximity of the lockdown to Pesach, even in an ordinary year the busiest
season for most rabbis.
Sadly, the impact of the
crisis has hit many families and communities in the harshest of ways, with a marked
increase in the number of bereavements and those who are seriously ill. To make matters worse, social-distancing requirements
mean that funerals may only be attended by a handful of people, shiva
gatherings are forbidden and it is not permitted to visit the sick. These rules add multiple layers of distress and
anxiety to what are already life’s most painful experiences. My prayers are with all those affected and
their loved ones at this exceedingly difficult time. And my thoughts are with those colleagues for
whom this period has been unusually stressful.
They have been called upon to conduct numerous funerals in short order,
while simultaneously supporting multiple bereaved families. They have all risen to the challenge
admirably. I don’t underestimate the
emotional and physical toll on them and their families.
As with all crises, this
one has sorted the heroes from the zeroes.
Across the community, religious and lay leaders have set aside their personal
anxieties, stepping forward to take bold, thoughtful decisions, creating a
sense of engagement, care and spirituality for their flocks. I am awed at what many of my colleagues have
achieved in a short time and I am filled with admiration at what my own
lay-leadership has put in place to support our community, something that I know
is replicated in many others.
I have spent much of the
past few weeks supporting our rabbinic and lay teams as we reimagine our
community online, devise new programming designed to reach the largest possible
number and create enhanced welfare systems to support those isolated by the
crisis. It’s been one of the most
intense periods I can recall, notwithstanding that I’ve barely left the house. Yet it has also been a time of introspection,
especially as Shabbat and Yom Tov have been so quiet and free from formal
Where these quiet moments have led me and their intersection with certain recent developments will be covered in my next post later this week.