There is an old Dan Fogelberg song from 1981 titled “Same Old Lang Syne”. It is an ode to what was and will never be again. I heard this song a few days ago and was struck by how much it spoke to us now. On the dawning of 2022, as we approach the third anniversary of Covid time, I could not help reflect on some of the words.
The song tells of two people who meet each other by accident, two people who have a history. They “drink a toast to innocence” and then a “toast to now” and then “tried to reach beyond the emptiness” but did not know how. How many of us this new year will raise a glass and drink a toast to the loss of innocence?
2022! We are still as a society dealing with the trauma of 9/11. Our politics and decline of civil discourse, I suggest, are representative of this un-reconciled trauma. Now, we add a second social trauma, Covid, a trauma, the effects of which, like 9/11, will be with us for years, maybe decades. Think back to much of what life was like prior to these two traumas, how innocent that seems now. So, maybe it is time to accept the reality that this societal innocence has gone forever. So we drink a toast to that innocence and ask ourselves what now? One hundred years ago we were living the roaring twentieth of the twentieth century. Now we exist in the anxious twenties of the twenty-first century. Anxiety, isolation of the soul and self, social polarization are characteristics of so much of our age. It is easy to blame the pandemic, but the seeds of this were planted years ago. We have never, as a society, dealt with these twin traumas. We are now paying the price.
For we elders, the loss of this innocence means a great deal. We feel this more than many as we are more aware of time’s passing and the loss of not only time, but relationships and possible moments of meaning. These losses have made the times we have with others, either in person or virtually, even more precious. Jewishly we may have retreated from formal institutional life, but our need for community is sparking new forms of relationships and, I believe, new interpretations of Judaism.
Maybe this loss of innocence will spark a new interest in what we have been calling a search for a mature spirituality. Maybe, we will need to put away the mythologies and miracle stories of our youth and create a Judaism that speaks to how we can heal the fractured world that seems intent on dehumanizing everything from the political process to climate to the ability of a person to choose the type of life they wish. Maybe this loss of innocence will see the re-imagining of synagogues as well as the re-visioning of our own souls. Perhaps, as we drink this toast to innocence, we can begin, each of us, to have a serious conversation with life, to let go of that which binds us, and hold on to that which brings us joy, passion, fulfillment and most of all love. Or, maybe, just maybe, as we drain that glass and walk into the future, we can channel the verse from Pirke Avot which reminds us that “in a place where no one acts like a human being, strive to be a human being”.
Stay safe and have a healthy 2022.
Rabbi Richard F. Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.