The old year is finally about to end.
It’s been a year of supreme weirdness; covid has rejiggered many people’s attitudes toward work, commuting to work, dressing for work, making friends at work. Now that we can go out, some of us do. Others of us don’t.
We’ve rediscovered the glories of eating outside; some of the simple pleasures of breezes and sunlight and crickets and fireflies (as well as the more annoying bits, the way everything flaps and occasionally blows away, bugs feel free to enjoy whatever it is you’re eating, and if you are foolhardy enough to sit on the grass in a park, you might well be reminded of other uses. Eeewwwww.)
Sometimes you see extraordinary things. This week, as I walked near Riverside Park at daybreak (and one of the marvelous things about it is being able to use words like daybreak, which seems literally true on the best mornings), I saw an animal the size of a large-ish dog, but clearly not a dog, vanish into the woods. I’m not sure what I saw, but I think it was a coyote; I know that there have been some in the park, and across Manhattan. And it moved away from me fast enough not to be frightening. (I’m not trying to kid anyone, particularly myself. If it had moved in my direction, I would have been terrified.)
I’ve been thinking about the way these last three covid years have gone. This year, shul on the holidays will be pretty much normal for most of us, it seems; some people will wear masks, and some communities will cordon off some space only for masked congregants. More people will chose to stay at home and Zoom or live-stream services, at least in the liberal part of the Jewish world; probably some older or immunocompromised people who go to Orthodox shuls will chose to stay home, out of prudence.
I try to compare it to that first horrified year, 2020, when no one could meet in person; liberal shuls came up with clever, sometimes highly produced and prefilmed services, and Orthodox ones had to send congregants materials for the holidays ahead of time. Last year, some people met, some didn’t; there was much judgment of other people’s decisions in all directions, you might remember.
This year will be almost like it used to be, but with new memories.
It makes me think of the vaccines and boosters that most of our readers have gotten, those miraculous mixtures of I-have-no-idea-what that keep us far, far safer than we would have been otherwise. We used to be covid virgins. Our bodies had never encountered the virus, and to do so often was deadly. Now, with up to three boosters sloshing around in our cells, joining the full vaccine doses, and with a substantial number of us also having had and survived covid, there is absolutely nothing new about what used to be called the “novel coronavirus.” Yeah yeah yeah. It’s old now.
We don’t know what this new year will be like; maybe something we learned from the pandemic is the humility to realize that we never can know. But we do know that we know far more about death and risk and courage and prudence and science and wisdom than we had before.
We are facing a perilous time. Our democracy is at risk in ways that it hasn’t been since the run-up to the Civil War. The world is threatened by a mad, cornered dictator who could unleash the hounds of nuclear war. We are at each other’s throats (although often it is safer just to send mean tweets). Antisemitism seems to be rising, as it often does during times of uncertainty.
But the new year is starting, and it brings sweetness and hope, apples and honey and the sounds of the shofar and the hugs of our community and the stories of our people.
May all of us have a good, sane, healthy, safe year; maybe it be punctuated with occasional peals of real laughter. Shanah tovah to all our readers.