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Blessings of Separation

04/16/2020 03:08:12 PM


When our second son, Evan Ariel, was born on February 26, I expected that we would be more or less homebound for the next few weeks. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the rest of the world would be joining us in our isolation. As challenging as these days of quarantine have been, I take comfort in the many ways that this strange time of separation have enabled us – however ironically – to come together.

These are just a few of the “blessings of separation” I’ve experienced in the age of COVID-19:

  • Although live-streamed services are not quite the same as worshipping in person, I’ve cherished the opportunity to virtually visit many Jewish communities that I’ve been part of over the years.  I was thrilled to learn that so many people joined Temple Israel of Northern Westchester online for services that we had to increase the bandwidth of our server. In this time of darkness and separation, we rely on our faith communities to bring us a sense of normalcy and healing. I’m so glad that our congregational family has been able to come together in this way, both on Shabbat and through our online concert series.
  • With our busy schedules, my family hardly ever has the time to sit down for dinner together – let alone cook.  To prepare for Passover, I decided to make my very first chicken soup from scratch. Overwhelmed by the numerous recipes I found online, I decide to crowd-source on Facebook for more specific tips and techniques. In doing so, I was able adapt suggestions from friends in New York, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC into a concoction that my husband proclaimed to be “some of the best soup I’ve ever had.”  The real challenge will be whether I’m able to replicate it a second time!
  • We have had delightful conversations – at a safe distance, of course –with many neighbors on our quiet cul-de-sac. We cross the street whenever we see someone else walking towards us, but a friendly nod shows that we understand the need to remain at least six feet apart. We’ve joked that we should have a giant block party once life gets back to normal so that we can connect for real. Let’s hope that we can actually make it happen!
  • Quarantine has been particularly difficult for my older son, Alex. At two years of age, he is fully aware that his routine has turned upside down ,though he cannot understand why. Alex desperately misses his friends and teachers from his daycare. Fortunately, we have been able to connect with his classmates and teachers via Zoom.  Chaotic as it might be, there is nothing more entertaining than watching 15 toddlers parallel play in their individual squares. The best part is that we’ve had the chance to get to know some of the parents of Alex’s classmates as we facilitate the calls. This has enabled us to develop a real sense of school community. After all, we are all experiencing the same challenge of constantly engaging stir-crazy and wildly energetic toddlers on lockdown!  We’ve always adored his wonderful teachers, but now we have a much deeper appreciation for all that they do to help nurture our children.
  • The magic of Zoom has also enabled me to connect with old friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in over 15 years.  In our typically global society, it can be hard to keep up with people who live in other time zones. As the days blur together, COVID-time is somewhat more flexible than reality. I’ve enjoyed group video chats with friends from childhood, college, and cantorial school who live in places spanning from Atlanta to San Francisco to Jerusalem. Despite the thousands of miles of distance between us, we are all feeling the fallout from this pandemic.

In the Jewish tradition, we encounter blessings of separation in a different sort of way. At the conclusion of Shabbat each week, we conduct a ritual known as Havdalah, which literally means “separation” in Hebrew.  Havdalah is designed to bring the sweetness and joy of Shabbat into the mundane workweek. We do this by drinking wine, smelling fragrant spices, and lighting a braided candle with multiple wicks.  

Our sages teach us that the Havdalah candle has more than one wick because the blessing we recite over the fire is written in the plural. This implies that there are multiple types of fire, created by multiple groups of people. By bringing two or more flames together, we demonstrate the ways in which separate groups of people are able to come together in solidarity. When we put two different flames together, they become a singular bright light.  Although we may physically be alone in our individual homes at the moment, we remain connected through the collective experience and memory of being part of this extraordinary time in the history of humanity – a light that will shine brightly so long as we continue to nurture it.

Though I grieve the fact that Evan entered into a world that is vastly different than the one we knew from just a few weeks earlier, I remain hopeful that we will one day emerge from this time of separation – however long it might be – kinder, stronger, and more grateful than we were before. I hope you are all safe and well and I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this surreal new normal.

Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782