Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Oh, the places we've been!
One year ago, when we took our services out of the building and onto Zoom, I decided that a housebound congregation needed ways to expand its horizons, to take flights of fancy when physical travel was impossible.
So each Shabbat - and at other times too - I've used the Zoom virtual background feature to take us to sacred places around the world. At a time when everyone was cooped up in quarantine, when even the New York Times' travel section was renamed "At Home," we needed that vehicle of escape. I know I did.
Visiting these holy places took some of the humdrum out of our day and added a sense of wonder. It also added a bit of intrigue to the service, causing people to ask, "Where in the world will the rabbi be today?" Or maybe you didn't. But for me, these fanciful flights helped me forge a new intentionality (kavvanah) as I prepared for each service. Without leaving my home, I was able to visit more places than Waldo or Carmen Sandiego. And since almost all of these photos were taken by me, each Shabbat I was whisked back to a key moment of my own spiritual growth. How better to celebrate Shavuot than to be on Mount Sinai, next to myself as a teenager. Or on Hanukkah, to be standing before the ancient temple model in Jerusalem. Or on Inauguration weekend, to be socially distant from Bernie Sanders, to celebrate our high school graduates with a trip to Hogwarts (and Rydell High too).
We communed with a cow in Varanasi, India's holiest city, on Shabbat Parah (the Shabbat of the Cow), we mourned George Floyd's murder at the Lincoln Memorial, and commemorated D-Day at the American Cemetery in Normandy and Pride Shabbat at the Stonewall Inn. We lifted our eyes to a sunrise in Nepal, and marveled at Victoria Falls; we celebrated Israel's birthday in Latrun and Yom Hashoah at Auschwitz and Terezin. Through these images, prayer was better able to lift us out of our cabin fever and send our souls soaring.
I can't wait to see more people in person - but I must confess, I'm really going to miss the ways Covid forced us to to be more creative in our worship, and we need to incorporate this into our plans as we return to our "new normal."