All of us have had to make some sort of mental shift during this pandemic. I have found a mental shift is especially difficult when we are used to experiencing life cycles in person and when we have already envisioned these moments within a large gathering of those we love.
This year, 5781 is the year our daughter Aria becomes Bat Mitzvah. Our vision was to invite all of you to celebrate with us in person on Saturday, May 1, 2021. We even had our Friday night pre-Shabbat wine and cheese planned! Aria is a child of our congregation, she started in the baby room in our preschool. Some of her best friends are those that she met downstairs at KI in our preschool. They are also having their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs this year. Before I can begin to start planning what Aria’s Bat Mitzvah celebration will look like now, I must mourn the loss of what we envisioned and what we dreamed. I must also mourn the loss of how I envisioned standing next to those children of the congregation I have known since birth. I am a seventh grade parent this year trying not to think about the countless services, experiences and celebrations our daughter and these students will miss.
This is just one of many examples of the stories of our congregation. There are so many life cycle events where just one hug would make the difference. There are life cycle events where the one person we wanted there has to get on a plane and may not feel safe at the moment. There are life cycle events that have been cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled to end up on Zoom anyway.
How to deal with this loss surrounding life cycles can be momentous. Thankfully, with mask wearing and increasing numbers around large group gatherings, we are able to be together in person in some way. This helps, this is hopeful, and this makes a difference. At the beginning of the pandemic, I only officiated at life cycles over zoom, then I shifted to small gatherings outdoors of just the immediate family, to larger outdoor gatherings, and now I officiate at both indoor funerals and indoor KI Bar/Bat mitzvahs up to 25 people.
How these events look are quite different. No matter what, my services begin with the largest air hug for the family anyone could ever get! For Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I am on the upper bimah, and the student is on the lower bimah with their family. The student doesn’t wear a mask, but everyone else does. The family that usually attends is the closest family circle- grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Most in-person events have a zoom or streamed component that will include those who aren’t in-person.
This week’s Torah portion begins with the word “B’reisheet”- which can be translated “Starting in the head.” Shifting mental space is the most challenging. It is easier to change our schedules, to change a date, to change a venue, to change how we get groceries, to change how we communicate on a daily basis. Changing our beliefs around an idea planted deeply inside of us is challenging.
Light was created out of darkness. For us to shift mental space, we may have to feel that darkness. Light only will come out of creating from the “rosh’- from our heads. After God creates light, the spirit of God comes over the face of the Earth. Love and memory aren’t always in person. Love and memory comes to us like sweeping spirit of God.
While I may not be able to take away the aching pain of not being together as a community and being with those we love, I can say- I walk with you. I will be there for you with my air hugs, with my voice, with my energy, and with my love. Whatever life cycle we go through, prayers will be felt like the spirit of God, and it will all be “good.”