5781 was challenging. But we got through it. In the process, we learned how to celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays remotely or in compliant outdoor venues; figured out how to work remotely and still do our jobs; attended meetings, communal events and celebrations on Zoom or in carefully restricted settings; and watched our children struggle to learn remotely or attend class under difficult COVID-driven rules. Throughout it all, we yearned for a return to “normal.”
Around Rosh Hashanah of last year, as the COVID-19 infection and death rates soared yet again, there was uncertainty about our nation’s ability to react quickly and comprehensively enough to overcome the virus. A few months later, as a national vaccination program rolled out, infections and COVID-related deaths began to decline. Over time, as the number of vaccinations increased — and with it more promising virus-defying numbers — plans were formulated to remove masks, eliminate social distancing requirements and even allow indoor gatherings. And we envisioned a triumphant return to our synagogues and workplaces by Rosh Hashanah.
But it was not to be. The stubborn refusal of millions of Americans to get vaccinated — and the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant that took advantage of that reluctance — shattered our optimism and forced us to change our plans. So once again, as Rosh Hashanah 5782 approaches, we are challenged. The feeling of déjà vu — complete with all of the uncertainties of a raging pandemic that we cannot fully control — is frightening.
We worry about the impact of new restrictions on our children. Notwithstanding the remarkable efforts of our schools, last year’s education programs were not optimal. And we are concerned about the long-term impact of further reduced education opportunities.
On the economic front, we have seen two conflicting trends: The stock market is booming, as consumer spending is hot and business investment is growing. At the same time, economic inequality is getting worse, as the wealth gap continues to increase, with little hope or meaningful opportunity for the neediest among us.
Locally, we take pride that our synagogues and communal institutions have continued to work so hard to build a vibrant Jewish community, and have been remarkably attentive and creative in doing so. They have been nimble in adjusting to new rules and realities, even as they prepare for the holidays and the coming new year.
As we think about the past year, there are two other achievements we celebrate. First, we applaud the efforts of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and other local organizations in raising charitable dollars to support food, shelter and healthcare needs caused by the pandemic, while at the same time continuing to support ongoing Jewish life. The results are impressive.
Second, we marvel at the remarkably rapid development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. That singular accomplishment is emblematic of what can be accomplished when people work together. Let’s keep that in mind as we prepare to face new challenges in the coming year.
We wish all of our readers a healthy, happy and sweet new year. pjc