An Antidote to Stress and Covid-19
Rabbi Dr. Steven Moss
One of the activities that Jews seem to do quite often and are commanded to do by the tradition, is to remember. We are commanded to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as stated in Exodus chapter 20, verse 8. In Deuteronomy chapter 25, verse 17 we are commanded to remember Amalek, the evil descendant of Esau who attempted to destroy the ancient Hebrews. This remembrance became the basis for blotting out the name of Haman at Purim as we are commanded to blot out Amalek’s name.
We also have various services and ceremonies throughout the year, each of them involved with remembering. There are the four Yizkor services a year, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot, when we remember our loved ones who have passed away. There is the Yahrzeit, the yearly anniversary of the death of a loved one when a candle is light in memory of that person and prayers of remembrance are recited.
Finally, there are days during the year commemorating, through the process of remembrance, special times in Jewish history. On Tish B’Av, the community remembers the destructions of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. On Yom HaShoah, we remember the Holocaust and on Yom HaAtzmaut, we recall the valiant fight that was waged to secure the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The act of remembering, which is known as reminiscing when done by an individual, is also quite a common human activity. Every person enjoys reminiscing, as he or she tells of events in one’s life that happened in the past.
This act of reminiscing seems to be most enjoyed and practiced, however, by those who are aging.
Older people love telling the stories about their childhoods. Quite often they are reminded by family, and especially by their grandchildren, that they have told that story already, maybe many times. They share stories from their high school years, about the years in the armed services, about their family – children, grandchildren and maybe great grandchildren. Those seniors who survived the Holocaust might have stories they recall from that exceedingly difficult time in their lives.
Reminiscing about the past often helps the older person feel better about themselves in the present time. By retelling these events and by remembering certain significant people in their lives, they are uplifting themselves by feeling joy, inspired by these happy memories. It is quite often a very pleasant activity. This is especially valuable for those who are aging for whom there are not necessarily many new activities and, therefore, remembrances to be formed. Sometimes, reminiscences allow the person to rework difficult times and relationships, for by retelling these events things seem to work out for the better.
The stress caused by Covid-19 is omnipresent. One way, and an unbelievably valuable way, to reduce the stress and to deal with the pandemic, is spending time reminiscing.
I have friends who will not leave their homes, ordering in everything they need. I know others who go food shopping, but they have such anxiety that they are constantly wiping down everything in sight. There are some people, I have been told, who have tried just taking a drive to get out of the house and travel for about a mile and return home with an anxiety attack. They are fearful the car might break down, or they possibly have an accident, and the responders “might” have the virus.
There are also those people, and particularly seniors, who are just bored because they have little to do and nowhere to go.
As Jews, however, we need never feel bored because we can always reminisce, that is spend time in constructive and enjoyable remembering the past and telling the stories about those special times long ago. In a sense, we are fulfilling a mitzvah, a commandment by doing this.
So, while you are at home and in need of a project or are just bored, you can reminisce. How?
- Call up, Skype, FaceTime a family member who is also at home and share the stories of your life. Form a Zoom reminiscing group with friends from the old neighborhood.
- Take the time to write down your memories and make the “Book of Your Life”. You might not think you have a story to tell, but everyone does. This is your time, and again you have lots of time to tell it.
- You can look at photo albums or just take time to enjoy memorabilia that you have saved. Let these precious items bring you back in time.
- Finally, all you need to do is kick off your shoes, put the recliner back, close your eyes and remember those times that brought you joy.
Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I do not know how to describe the times we are now living through. I do know; however, it is up to each of us to make them the best of times we can.
Rabbi Dr. Steven A Moss is Rabbi Emeritus of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, NY, a synagogue he has served since 1972. He recently retired to Boynton Beach, FL, and is serving as rabbi of Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County. He has also authored, God Is With Me; I Have No Fear, and A Poetical Journey Through Sefirat HaOmer.