Four challenges pursue me by day and sometimes keep me awake at night.
The first is how to find the language, rituals, virtual meeting places to connect us in our isolation, on the new(ish) map of Facebook, zoom, teams, and what’s app and many others. I think of how the Rebbe of the Warsaw ghetto re-interpreted Joseph’s dream through the insight that ilem, ‘sheaf’ can also mean ‘mute’. He read not ‘My sheaf stood up and your sheaves rose around,’ but ‘I stood up in my muteness and you gathered round.’ In this way, despite incomparably greater anxieties than ours today, he sought to re-establish communication and community. I honour how people in our congregation are reaching out to one another in friendship, solidarity, learning and prayer and respect the different, creative and open-hearted ways in which this is being done.
The second is how is to be present with the many of us who are worrying, unwell, grieving and bereaved when ‘present’ is precisely what we can’t be. ‘I am with you in your trouble,’ says God in the Psalms (91). But Judaism has never simply left that task to God. It’s up to us to be with one another in our hours of struggle and pain. Can we communicate that closeness across the ether? Zoom is remarkable, the phone is sometimes even better, but neither are a hug.
The third challenge is how to highlight, support and participate in the outpouring of neighbourliness, kindness, generosity and dedication which is currently characterising our society in ways I’ve never witnessed in my lifetime. ‘Love your neighbour’ is happening all around us, from food distribution at JW3, to the anonymous donor who kept the local pub in business by sponsoring fish and chips for every household in the village, to the congregant I called just as she was busy making her first ever protective gown for the NHS. If we don’t give these efforts our heart, what kind of human beings are we?
The fourth is how we influence what will soon have become our ‘new normal.’ The planet can’t afford a rush back to what was before, appealing as it sometimes feels. Can we take our deepened awareness of social justice, the importance of community and connection, and a deeper and humbler appreciation of nature and put them at the core of our society? If we say and do nothing, we will have made ourselves bystanders in one of the greatest opportunities in decades, perhaps in our last, best chance.
These are the challenges. With faith, energy, generosity, courage, inventiveness and compassion, we can at least give them all our best.