To quote a famous commentator, the world IS upside down! Waking up on Thanksgiving morning to drizzle and clouds and a somewhat empty feeling. Thinking about a passage from Pirke Avot, I think 3:22, that we discusssed in a recent class. It spoke of roots and branches and the idea that a tree with huge branches and few roots will, in a storm, fall. However, the tree with strong roots, that tree will survive.
We are in the midst of a great transition, especially in our Jewish world. The Judaism that will emerge from the pandemic will, I predict, be different than the Judaism of early 2020. Technology has become normal. The concept of membership is now totally up for re-interpretation. The entrepreneurial rabbinate will grow and so much more. One of the truths that seem to be emerging from the pandemic is that so many people crave community–even virtual ones. For Baby Boomers, the reality of our mortality (played out with stark facts and figures at every newscast) makes us often re-evaluate our own priorities. We are subject to what some have called the “promiscuity of information” which is so often indicative of the paucity of fact. The perfect storm of pandemic, isolation, anxiety, fear and uncertainty is leaving so many of us craving for stability and routine.
And so we hearken back to Tevya! Tradition! Yes, ritual and tradition can provide us with a sense of security, “normalcy”, or , if you will, roots. Before you dismiss this, give it some thought. The basic rituals of our tradition do provide a sense of routine, of focus, of normalcy, if you will. Most of the Jewish world has drifted away from this. We may light a Menorah at Hannukah or sit at a seder and maybe attend a High Holiday service or Shabbat service–if invited! But the reality of modern Jewish life is that most do not. So I am suggesting that maybe, one of the unintended consequences of Covid and isolation can be a re-imagining of basic Jewish rituals that can provide a sense of roots, focus and direction in a world that seems to have lost its own bearings.
This may not be as bizarre as one may think. After all, we are re-imagining Thanksgiving this year and most likely will do the same wth Hannukah, a mere 2 plus weeks away. Is it so strange to think of that weekly erev-Shabbat ritual of candles, wine and Chalah, as a pause to give thanks for one’s safety and health? A few moments to be reminded of the gift of life and the fact that we are part of an on-going chain of history? Is it that off the wall to recite a Haskiveinu before bed or a simple modeh ani upon waking? Engaging in the traditions of Jewish life can, I suggest, provide us with those roots that help us deal with the storm of life, a storm whose winds are bringing change and transition. Right now, for so many, we are like that tree that has so many branches, but very few roots. We bend and too many break. Why not re-engage with the sacredness of our tradition, a tradition that has stood the test of time by growing and adapting to each new challange, each new storm by growing deep new roots. Some may call it faith.
Stay safe, Stay healthy
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.