Everything’s getting closer — Shavuot, the end of the Omer, Memorial Day weekend, the summer — but it’s not quite here yet.
Soon we’ll be wearing only summer clothing, instead of the bizarre transitional mix that we layer on now. Sunday afternoon traffic will be an official disaster. Instead of counting down to the revelation at Sinai, we’ll be moving toward the devastation of Tisha d’Av, and then, somehow, oh no!, the holiday season will come inexorably closer.
But now the school year still is winding down, college graduations have begun, summer camp is a month away, which means that camp shopping season has started, and everything still is in transition.
The days are getting longer, but they’re moving toward the beginning of summer, when the decline toward darkness improbably begins again.
And time keeps moving forward.
This week, we heard a lot about changes and transitions — some voluntary, some not; some in thoughtful response to the outside world, some not.
As the world reopens for real (ready or not; we’re all desperate for the normality of unmasked faces and crowded rooms, but those among us who have a whole range of medical conditions still have to worry about covid), institutions have to rethink their missions and strategies.
Are we working from home or commuting to an office? It saves time to work from home, but it can get lonely, and there’s a good argument that not being able to talk about work and not-work with co-workers makes work a bit less fluid. Conversations are good oil, and we as cogs need oiling. Working from home harms the vendors who depend on daytime business, and it thwarts the need many of us have to get dressed up and be seen. On the other hand, it’s a good antidote to road rage. No road, no rage!
Synagogues face real threats and present the opportunity for real creativity as their leaders rethink available options. In the non-Orthodox world, broadly speaking, membership is down, and so are the available financial resources. That was increasingly true before the pandemic, and years at home alone hasn’t helped. Many people are out of the shul-going habit. Some are still spooked by being inside with other people; others have realized that sleeping late and then maybe going outside and reveling in natural beauty fills the shul-sized hole in their schedules.
During covid, many people moved away, and they’ve not necessarily been replaced by Jews, much less Jews of the same denomination. And there seems to have been a decrease in organized religion in general, not just among Jews but among all Americans, that militates against shul complacency.
On the other hand, people long for community. They just don’t necessarily want it in the same way. But we see, in this week’s paper, how enterprises like YIVO, teaching Yiddish to growing numbers of students because it’s a gripping, emotionally resonant tie to the past and through the past to the present and the future, and Hadar’s Rising Song Institute, offering music to growing numbers of people for the same reason, its emotional power and resonance, are fulfilling a very real desire among Jews to connect to Jewish life. They just don’t want to do it in the same old way, or at least only in that same old way.
So synagogues also are starting to rethink some of their models, their music, their programming, their dues structure, as they figure out how to reach Jews’ very real need for community.
It’s a scary time, but it’s exciting. The possibility of change always is. The world is terrifying right now in so many ways, but there are so many avenues for learning and joy still available. As Shavuot and revelation come closer, we hope that more and more people will explore them.