Praying Together, Mourning Alone

How "Zooming" into Friday Night Shabbat Services Brought Me to Tears

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Credit: Greg Rosenke
Credit: Greg Rosenke
Photo credit: Greg Rosenke

Tonight was the first night I cried. Listening to my hometown’s remote Shabbat services. The guitar and Cantor’s warm voice slicing through the cold, rainy April evening.

They say that America lost its innocence after 9-11. Sure, we lost so much after that beautiful, warm early-fall day, and those dark days that followed. But then, we were able to come together – to hug, process, drink, wonder. The president encouraged us to shop to boost our momentarily blunted economy, like those paddles they use to shock a lifeless patient who’s suffered a heart attack.

And while the dust rose in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon smoldered, we were all Americans – united in grief and our determination to stand strong and defeat the shadowy-but-human enemy.

Less than 20 years later, we are sequestered in our houses, hiding from an invisible, indiscriminate enemy. The unity has crumbled and, in its place, ugly partisan division has separated us into red states and blue states, liberal urban agglomerations and conservative rural areas.

The hospitals of great cities on both coasts are groaning under the weight of this burden…. Doctors and nurses describe a “warzone”, with patients suffering from COVID-19 gasping for breath being treated in corridors, and refrigerated trucks park outside of hospitals because hospital morgues overflow with the dead.

We look to our leaders to calm us, to keep us safe, to get frontline workers – doctors, nurses, paramedics – the N-95 face masks – that cost ONE DOLLAR – that they need to have the slimmest chance of not contracting the virus after dealing with contagious patients all day.

Yet, our national leaders seem incapable of rising to the occasion, of being truthful to the American people, of organizing a coherent, federal-level response. Our president preens and boasts about ratings while second-guessing the needs of those governors who don’t flatter him and grovel. Our governors have to compete with other states, the federal government and other countries to procure personal protective equipment, ventilators and other life-saving equipment. What has become of the mightiest nation on earth, that sent men to the moon and rocketships to Mars?

Most of us stay at home and wring our hands – the lucky amongst us juggle work and childcare and homemaking, the unlucky are those newly-unemployed with no way to pay the inevitable tide of bills that trickle in and then arrive ceaselessly, like the tide. There are the “essential” amongst us – the ER doc who resorts to tying a bandana around his face as he works 20-hour shifts, and the unsung grocery clerks, gas station attendants, pet store cashiers – people who are putting themselves at risk every day to do their jobs, many not even earning enough to pay their bills.

No one knows how this will end – all we know is that there will lots of pain and suffering before it’s through – hundreds of thousands of lives cut short, plans disrupted, jobs lost, businesses shuttered. It’s scary and sad and overwhelming.

So, tonight, as I sit staring at my computer screen, listening to the beautiful voice of my Temple’s Cantor singing ancient songs to welcome the Sabbath as the wind-whipped rain hits my windows, the tears flow.

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