What a year
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EDITORIAL

What a year

Joanne Palmer

It’s hard to know what to say about a year as abysmally abnormal as 2021 has been.

2020 was different. It was a year of surpassing weirdness. Danger lurked, the virus was our implacable, invisible enemy, impossibly grief-defying funerals were all we had, shiva was on Zoom, weird hobbies blossomed like flowers and then died like Job’s sad plant, and technology companies made out like bandits.

In the background for some of us — and thundering in the foreground like the four horsemen of other people’s Apocalypse for others of us — was the most fraught presidential election in our lifetime.

But then the election was over, the vaccine was created and manufactured, and it seemed that normal life was well within our reach?

Right?

Um, no. Wrong.

By January 6, the idea that this year would be a good one was proven pure wishful thinking as the attempted coup, carried out by men wearing an assortment of fashion faux-pas outfits including, horrifically, Confederate flags and at least one T-shirt emblazoned with Camp Auschwitz, shook the Capitol.

Since then, more and more hatred and division has rent the country, to the point where each of us has to establish where we stand, as gently and cryptically as possible, before any but the most anodyne conversations can continue.

Who ever thought that vaccine avoidance would be a thing? Normally, that’s confined to the lunatic fringes — to the right-wingers who see deep state overreach in everything, and the left-wingers who are far too crunchy to allow Big Pharma anywhere near the pristine temples of their bodies. But now, huge numbers of people are unvaccinated, and those of us who are double-vaxxed and boosted — and in overwhelmingly most cases protected from the worst ravages of omicron, even if we get breakthrough infections — are left to resent them from what increasingly is seeming like the prisons of our homes.

I find it useful to think back to what Kurt Roberg of Tenafly, whom I wrote about in “Becoming An American” on July 1, 2020, told me. Mr. Roberg has an extraordinary story about how he escaped Europe; at 97, he tells jaw-dropping true stories. I first talked to him when he called me; he was angry about people who approached isolation at home as an insurmountable disaster. Yes, it’s hard, he said, but his uncle survived months in a wardrobe. Needless to say, there was no Zoom in the dark, airless box.

Suffering is relative.

Still, it is entirely true that the stresses of these last two years have been enormous. They’re particularly hard on children and adolescents, who are having to develop their own understanding of themselves in isolation.

That’s why the story of Cresskill, where an entire town’s worth of middle- and high-school students are consigned to overwhelmingly an online education for what will soon be a third year, is so difficult. Those students deserve — in fact are entitled to — a decent education, which includes time with other people. It was one thing when the virus forced everyone into their own small spaces; now everyone else is back. They should be too.

And that’s why the story of Yachad also is so important. Yachad is about inclusion, and there’s also a simple lesson to be taken from its name.

Yachad means together.

Even when we cannot be together in body — when a variant pushes us apart — certainly we can try for more yachdut. More understanding that whatever it is that divides us — and there is much that divides us — we’re all in this together.

We hope that our readers have a good 2022. Although this is a low bar, we hope that it will prove to be a better year than 2021 was. And we hope that not only for our readers, but for the whole world.

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