Welcoming a New Year During a Pandemic

There is no doubt the pandemic has taken us out of our comfort zones and routines. In a very short time, we shifted our thinking and made decisions pertaining to our own safety and the safety of our loved ones. We suddenly found ourselves confined in our homes with very few spaces to go to and very few – if any – people to see in person.

These changes have inadvertently brought us to think about our own identities and to rediscover ourselves. Who am I when my life is suddenly interrupted? Who am I when I can’t see families and friends I love and trust? Who am I without others?

In my role as the Director of Early Childhood and as a parent of two daughters, I am constantly reminded of how vital it is to be a part of something bigger, even at a young age. One of the hardest challenges many families have experienced these past few months was the need to be a professional and a parent at the same time while having limited support. With roles blurred, children seek their parents’ attention repeatedly, which often leads to more parental guilt and frustration.

What our children are looking for is a sacred connection in moments of chaos. When everything around us doesn’t seem to make sense, making time for short, uninterrupted, and genuine connections lifts our spirits. The soft hand-holding, the eye contact, the gentle tête-à-têtes are what make a difference. These are the sacred times our children and we, their parents, need. As human beings wired for human connections, discovering creative ways to stay connected has become a survival response. Technology continues to be a useful tool for all of us and a bridge for intergenerational relations as well. Grandparents and friends do not let a pandemic break their relationships with loved ones. Likewise, no one lets a pandemic get in the way of volunteering and helping the community one way or another.

In a world where our time is so limited, turning our daily routines into rituals brings a sense of appreciation and purpose to our lives. In my family, bedtime is an opportunity for us to share a moment of gratitude. In its nature, Shabbat is a time for us to pause, reflect, and find gratitude. Setting aside time for Shabbat dinner with my family every week brings us joy, appreciation, and a sense of wholeness. For many parents, feeding an infant is a moment to bond and not simply a task; making eye contact with a toddler lets them know we really see them. These are ways we turn the mundane into sacred moments and see the extraordinary in the ordinary. These moments keep us grounded.

A few months ago, I attended a professional conference where we were invited to take a solitary nature walk. It was a gorgeous autumn day where nature was gleaming. Interestingly, after regrouping, many of us shared that the light and far away traffic noise were a disruption to the peaceful moment we were experiencing. Every day, extraordinary and defining moments pass in front of our eyes. Unfortunately, the “noises,” the light traffic, responsibilities, and worries block our view. Setting a sacred time to reflect and pause puts us in the right mindset to appreciate the lives we lead.

The idea of Kedusha, holiness, often presumes the need to be in a place of worship. COVID-19 has shown us that we can find holiness anywhere. The vessel, the sacred space that contains these moments, can be defined by each one of us. At Washington Hebrew these past six months, we have consistently offered our ECC children the opportunity to gather virtually and celebrate Shabbat.

In our Shabbat Sing program, the children made the virtual platform a sacred space. They danced, sang along, listened to our weekly stories, and (for the most part) were wholeheartedly present. The intentionality of our clergy set the tone for this uplifting experience. Throughout the summer, our ECC camp coordinators offered a sacred and safe space for children to gather virtually, get to know one another, and explore. Against all odds, we witnessed new friendships forming through a screen. By being fully present and intentional, we provided the children with a sacred space and a sacred time to address one of their basic needs – connecting with others. We invited them to see how much they mattered and that the absence of shared physical space was not a boundary.

As we begin the New Year, I wish all of us not only moments of happiness and good health but also opportunities to discover or create moments of wholeness and holiness in our mundane lives. While eating a piece of round challah on Rosh Hashanah, let’s remember the meaning of its shape. Our years may be cyclical, yet making time for sacred moments allows us to move in a spiral of upward growth.