Did you also miss the official arrival of Spring? We all did. In the midst of a frightening pandemic, thoughts of the season of sunshine and blooming flowers were all forgotten under the heavy drumbeat of bad news. “Shelter in place” rules suddenly clanged down on entire states, including here in California. Now, entire countries are under quarantine.
I’m not writing to pile on with any more news that could add to your distress. Instead, I send this newsletter to offer a little light amid our temporary darkness. This in no way discounts the tragic losses, heartbreak, serious illness and threats (physical, psychological and economic) and fears that face us. However, as a natural optimist, I see many sparks of light emerging from this crisis.
Yaakov Moshe is blissfully unaware of any troubles outside his blanket, as he should be.
Personally, our hearts were lifted by the birth of a new, precious child into our family. Yaakov Moshe was born to our son Noach and his wife, Esty, in Norfolk, Virginia, March 19, a harbinger of a brighter tomorrow. COVID-19 forced us to cancel our flights to see them and to attend our grandson’s bris, but nearly all West Coast family members, plus friends in other cities, “Zoomed” our attendance. We were delighted to share in the “virtual” celebration, as so many celebrations these days are, in fact, virtual.
If some of you are thinking, “Wait, didn’t she just announce a new grandson in last month’s newsletter?” the answer is yes, but I had neglected my newsletter for a few months, and these little cousins are just four months apart. This seems to conclude the current Gruen baby boom, though we welcome future ones.
The joy we have all felt with this baby’s arrival reminds us that hard times eventually pass. We thank the Almighty for our manifold blessings and look to the future with faith and optimism. We can’t wait to re-book our flights and hold Yaakov Moshe in our arms soon.
Last Friday evening it was a challenge to feel the light of Shabbat as we usually do. Synagogues were closed. With no opportunity to come together for prayer and friendship, how long would the next 25 hours feel? But just after I lit candles, I heard my neighbor across the street singing one of the opening, melodious prayers of Friday night. He has a resonant, booming voice, and I noticed a couple from halfway down the block standing next to his house. I went outside and was immediately uplifted by seeing several of my Jewish neighbors also standing outside, with plenty of social distancing, and we sang this hymn together. Even my non-Jewish neighbor right across the street looked out her window, holding her dog, and waved at us. It was so beautiful. Those few minutes of togetherness set a whole new tone for Shabbat.
The need to feel part of a community is very great, but as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently pointed out, there are communities in space, and communities in time. We are deprived from gathering in close groups, but we can feel close in other ways. It’s incredible how many virtual gatherings there are, some with thousands of people, calling in or Zooming in for communal prayer, study, or other classes. Last Sunday I enjoyed a virtual coffee date with a half dozen girlfriends via Zoom. It was fun and reassuring, so we’re “meeting” again this coming Sunday.
During these last difficult weeks, other happy news has abounded. Several friends have also welcomed new grandchildren, couples have gotten engaged, and some whose weddings were imminent had to suddenly and dramatically downsize from a big shindig with 200 or 300 people in a fancy hall to an intimate backyard or living room ceremony, with only close family in attendance, not standing too close. Next week my friend’s daughter will get married on her parents’ front lawn, and the the rabbi will wear a mask and gloves, in addition to his kippah. A couple in New York who were married in a tiny ceremony were then driven through their close-knit neighborhood in an open-air vehicle, where neighbors waited for them to drive by, clapping, singing and dancing for them as they drove by.
I think it’s very clear that one thing we are learning from all this is we must focus on what matters most, and lose the frills and extras that so many have us have long considered “essential.”
People everywhere are also stepping up to give to others. Neighbors offering to shop for those quarantined; people calling others who live alone, and so much more should give us all hope. The Independent Women’s Forum’s #InThisTogether campaign has collected dozens of heartwarming stories of American kindness, ingenuity and selflessness. You can read these Celebrating Heroes blog posts here.
Today, as I was putting this newsletter together, I received Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin’s weekly “Ask the Rabbi” column. Their answer to the question of the week, “How can (the world and I) deal with so much stress?” was simply such a home run, with so much wisdom and encouragement, that I am sharing it here.
Our current public health crisis has made many things that we take for granted impossible — for now. But our humanity and optimism are helping us to discover what is possible.
Buddy, Can You Spare a Chicken?
Hoarding? Panic buying? I was shocked, shocked to see this gluttonous purchasing behavior in my midst. But, having seen it, I just had to write about it.
Read the full story here
So These Two Orthodox Guys Walk Into a Bar. . .
I wrote this article for Jewish Action magazine about the growing presence of Orthodox personalities trading witticisms and ironic observations on social media, where many Orthodox have preferred not to tread. There’s an awful lot of insider talk in this story, but for those who live in this world, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Read Frum and Funny on Twitter here
The dramatic times we are living in will no doubt prompt many people to want to write their thoughts, remembrances, lessons learned, and other histories of this time. When the dust has settled, I would be honored to have the opportunity to help you craft your story, whether short-form essay or opinion piece, or longer form memoir.
In addition to working with private clients, I’ve recently been invited to join the roster of “critically acclaimed” writers for Story Terrace, which offers ghostwriting services for memoir writers. If you’d like to discuss a writing project with me now or in the future, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are still some slots left in my upcoming online course, “The Art of Persuasive Writing,“ through Story Circle Network. My class will run from April 20 – May 18. Classes are for women only, and I hope some of you will sign up! Whatever genre of writing that interests you most, focusing on the nuts and bolts of making a persuasive argument will boost your writing skills and help you analyze opinion pieces.
What are you reading these days?
Many of us have more time on our hands now for reading, and my three humor books, Carpool Tunnel Syndrome, The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement, and Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping, are all light, fun reads that can offer much-needed diversion. Two of them are available on Kindle as well as softcover. And my memoir, The Skeptic and the Rabbi, not only has humor throughout, but raises the kind of important questions about life’s purpose and how we relate to faith, which are emerging as key issues today. As one Amazon reader wrote, “This is a book that will stay with you for a very long time. It is food for the soul.”
I also just finished Lady Anna, by Anthony Trollope, which I loved, though you have to enjoy that more formal, British 19th-Century style, which I do. I’m enjoying Ann Patchett’s essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which has many pieces about her life as a writer, including a terrific piece about how she accidentally became perhaps the nation’s most famous independent bookseller in Nashville, Tennessee. I’m also a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith, and looking forward to starting The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, from one of his must successful series. His writing is delightful, gently ironic, and compassionate.
I’ll close by wishing you all health, resilience, patience, love, friendship, faith, and all the good things that make life so special. I welcome your emails at email@example.com.
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