I hope this note finds you well, safe, and healthy. I am writing these words to you as we adapt to the flow of information regarding the spread and impact of the coronavirus, as we engage with a new set of needs – the needs of the hour – and as we implement the precautions of social isolation and stricter emphasis on hygiene and disinfection. Our central, overarching purpose at this time is to meet the crisis at hand, to support and strengthen each other, and to remind ourselves and our loved ones that we are not defined by our circumstances, but by the way we see and engage with our world.
Public health emergencies and crises represent a set of unique and acute challenges – challenges that undermine our private and collective notions of safety and needs for a semblance of control over our lives. Let us recognize with frankness and directness that the current crisis is no exception. Our personal safety and the well-being of our friends and loved ones are in greater and more perceptible danger than they were only weeks ago. The biblical plague of blood presented significant challenges, requiring Pharaoh and his administration to understand this new pollution challenge, evaluate water reserves, and if necessary develop new means and methods toward the rapid re-purification of water. Yet, we perceive a qualitative difference between such a plague and the fear of grave illness and death touching any household and family. So many of us have dedicated so much time and effort to advancing the safety and well-being of our families; this new crisis offers us a stark and unwelcome reminder of our vulnerabilities, limitations, and constraints. In our weekly Shabbat service, we read that “wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt.” Yet, we continue to affirm that “there is a better place, a promised land,” and that our collective journey to it “passes through the wilderness.” Let us recognize together that this year’s Passover celebration is colored by the shadow of Egypt. Further, more than ever, this year, in some sense, we are all Egyptian, we are all afflicted.
Yet, as we recognize the vulnerabilities of the human conditions, we cannot, do not, and will not lose sight of and hope in the strengths and blessings of love, resilience, and transcendence – the capacity to grow and overcome. We meet this crisis determined to worship and pray together, to learn together, and to support each other in sickness and in health. We call upon every member of our congregation to take the time and make the effort to stream and participate in our worship services. Beyond the gifts of engagement with our liturgy and community, every person’s participation at this time constitutes a statement of special, cherished friendship and solidarity. We also call upon you to participate in the adult and family education programs offered by our clergy and the Temple Learning Center. Let us live out and send the message that ongoing learning and growth are important values in our lives, and that we give expression to this sense of Torah in community, enriching and being enriched by others. Let us communicate that we do not suspend our faith in the potential for new insight and understanding even in the face of fear and discomfort. In addition, we call upon members of our congregation to support each other and both grow and strengthen the network of resilience that our Temple community represents. Please let us know if you or someone you know needs assistance, guidance, or support.
Our Temple clergy and staff stand ready to help and to direct and refer all of us to the appropriate resources for the help and support that are available. Please know that we still welcome additional volunteers who would call, otherwise reach out to, and assist especially vulnerable or isolated members at this time. Please consult the instructions with regard to worship, learning, and support that we offer here, through our congregational emails, and through social media.
The Temple-Tifereth Israel community is rising to this crisis. We shall emerge from this moment as a covenant community, united in faith that together we can truly see and meet the frailties and strengths of the human condition. We have the capacity and can muster the will to continue to learn, grow, and become the people we wish to be, and that our task is to always walk together through the wilderness we encounter. We shall offer no false hopes. We will not promote unrealistic, let alone magical remedies and prospects, nor shall we retreat in the face of physical and spiritual pain where we encounter it. We shall hold each other in our hearts. We shall strive to live, to teach our children and grandchildren that our Jewish and interfaith community will always make a difference. We will strive to heal, repair, and lead the way toward justice and compassion one person at a time, together. This is who we are.
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen