Were the High Holidays the unofficial ending of the covid pandemic?
No, I am not an infectious diseases expert, nor do I have any friends in the NIH. Still, I’ve heard from many colleagues around the country that attendance during this High Holiday period was similar to or surpassed the pre-covid days.
I have observed it first-hand at our Chabad in Hackensack. People who didn’t come to services since the beginning of the pandemic have joined us again. And while many have been wearing masks, covid was no longer a hot topic of discussion.
Yet we should not let covid be forgotten so fast.
We should not let it be forgotten because of all those who lost their loved ones to this disease. We should not let it be forgotten because, unfortunately, many people are still dealing with the aftermath of long covid. And, of course, people are still dying from it.
Most of all, we should not forget the important lessons that the covid era has taught us.
One of the greatest lessons of covid was to appreciate what we bring to the table.
Before covid, much of our identity was our communal identity. Workplaces, synagogues, concert halls, and sports stadiums provided us with the feeling of belonging. It was so comforting to go to a place with others who share the same passion. It felt good to be part of a larger collective.
When covid struck, everything was gone.
We were locked down in our houses and apartments, unable to see and meet other like-minded people. All we had was ourselves. That compelled us to look inward. Instead of “us,” we spent more time thinking of “me.” We gained a greater awareness of our own thoughts and feelings. Simply put, we got to know ourselves better.
And now, it seems (please God, may it be!) that covid is winding down.
Being back with a community is fantastic. There is no substitute for face-to-face human interaction. Oh, and sitting together for Kiddush and having a little schmooze — can Zoom replace that? Never!
But as we reconnect with our communities, we must ask: will we remember the lesson covid taught us? Will we let ourselves be valued as individuals, or will we go back to the we-are-where-we-belong-to model?
Truth be told, both models — focusing on the community or the individual — have drawbacks. When we focus on our community, we might neglect our individuality. And concentrating on ourselves might lead us to be self-centered.
By divine providence, we just entered a year that can provide the perfect solution.
This Hebrew year, 5783, is the year of Hakhel — a year of gathering.
Once every seven years during the Holy Temple era, all Jews would gather at the Temple, listening to the king reading from the Torah. It was a moment to reconnect and reignite their faith.
Given that we do not have the Holy Temple, the rebbe, of righteous memory, suggested harnessing this year’s power by creating Hakhel gatherings wherever we are.
“Every person is like a king,” he said. “Every person has leadership qualities, and every person has a circle of influence. We have to be the ones gathering others and inspiring them to get close to God.”
I see this as a perfect model that merges both concepts.
First, we look inward. We discover our potential and our abilities. Then we turn back and use our newfound knowledge to impact others. We create our own micro-communities. It’s about us realizing our own powers and utilizing them to positively change the world around us.
We give others the gift of the community and inspire them to do the same.
Can you do Hakhel?
Think about your circle of influence. Think about the people you know and find ways to create the connection. It can be inviting a few friends for a coffee or hosting them for a Shabbat dinner. It can be a Chanukah party at your house or going together for a walk. Then, share some thoughts from the Torah, talk about God, and maybe sing a Jewish song or two.
It will feel good. But perhaps more importantly, it will create so much good.
Mendy Kaminker is the rabbi of Chabad of Hackensack and an editorial member of Chabad.org. He welcomes your comments at rabbi@ChabadHackensack.com