By Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, Principal, SAR Academy
Last week, on January 11, 2021, I received my first vaccine dose. On the first day of phase 1b, as an education worker, I, together with other “essential workers”, and residents over 75, was approved to receive my shot. After frantically searching all weekend, I was blessed to receive the vaccination. Never before has such a seemingly routine procedure evoked so much emotion for me and the others around me.
I followed the advice of “some halachic authorities” and recited the bracha of Hatov V’hameitiv– if the Gemara suggests that a good bottle of wine warrants that blessing, I felt confident this moment qualified. And in that incredible moment, I began to reflect on the following thoughts:
It has been a full year since I last saw my parents. Like so many of us, this is the longest drought in my 50 years. Separated by borders and restrictions, we “lost” a year, despite the wonders of FaceTime and Zoom. I know that many will not have the opportunity to reunite at all and this is unspeakably sad. I look forward to seeing my parents soon, and perhaps even being allowed a hug.
These last 10 months have been unusual, to say the least. We have been forced to reimagine how we do things. Most of us have spent more time with our immediate families than ever, not hosting guests for meals or running to the next Bar/Bat Mitzvah, baseball game, meeting or movie. Shabbat services were skipped and were then shorter. Our school “dinner” last week was a family event in the living room around a screen.
While we remind ourselves “this is not forever,” I believe we will eventually pass on stories of how we navigated the pandemic with pride.
I also look forward to the recalibration — gathering with extended family and celebrating as a community. But I hope the recalibration will allow us to keep some of the values we have learned – what makes a simcha or a holiday most meaningful – family, tradition, ritual, focusing on the substance of the day or the person we are celebrating. As I was recently speaking to someone about his son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah, with 20 guests, it felt normal (and OK), a stark contrast from the sorrow I felt in March as the first simchas were “cancelled” or broadcast over zoom.
Similarly at school, this time has forced us to use technology broadly, experiment with different classroom models, and reinvent how we do everything from departmental classes and after-school activities to how we handle lunch. While we look forward to lifting restrictions, slowly and responsibly, we are all considering the changes we may want to keep. I believe conversations around the post-pandemic school will be fascinating and will make our schools more efficient, creative and progressive.
What we do matters. I try to always remind our students – the words we use, the things we do, matter. I think about the husband and wife team of scientists in Cologne, Germany, who ride their bicycles to work and were instrumental in developing the Pfizer vaccine, or the volunteers in our school who served as medical advisors, space redesigners, Chesed angels. I think of those that delivered food on Pesach and Rosh Hashana to homebound adults, and those who modestly covered the costs. Most recently, I watch in awe as our new What’s App group, “Covid Vaccine Volunteers” matches seniors with coveted appointments and assists those that need transportation. I’ve learned these last 10 months that we can make decisions that brighten the lives of others. I am inspired by the many people using their creativity, compassion, and connections to make a difference.
We need each other. Last weekend, our 200 teachers scoured the internet for vaccination appointments. Every lead was shared on a Slack channel, new tips added by the hour and updates by the minute. Within 24 hours, hundreds of appointments were secured, and within two weeks, the majority of our staff will have received their first dose. No top down approach could compete with this kind of collaboration.
Teachers are being acknowledged as front line workers. I felt great pride to see our society recognize teachers of children as the heroes they are, nourishing our students, setting aside their own anxieties and fears for the sake of the merits of face-to-face learning.
With all the excitement, hope, and pride described above, I am humbled by how far there is to go.
Two percent of Americans have been vaccinated, including one million New Yorkers (which means 18 million are still waiting). While the system seems to be improving, and many people had smooth appointments, thousands waited on line, with some seniors being turned away due to dose shortages or closing offices.
This pandemic, now approaching a year of upending our lives, is not over. The coming months will require continued restrictions and discipline, as we wait for more vaccinations, learn from this experience, and start to reemerge. When we do, it is incumbent on us to recite the bracha of “dayan ha’emet”– mourning over lives lost and the suffering we witnessed.
I am hopeful that the other side of this dark tunnel will bring not only light, but a community that has reemerged stronger and more connected. I look forward to a communal moment of Hatov V’hameitiv with deep gratitude for the routines we once took for granted, the blessings of the support systems of our community and country, all with a recalibrated sense of what we most value.