For a few reasons, and I’m not just saying this because it was requested by the rabbi, my COVID memories will always be connected to Beth El. 

Two of the last events I went to before everything shut down were at Beth El: the Purim Carnival and a Saturday night Bat Mitzvah.

About 60 days into the pandemic, my mother passed away. Having Rabbis Schwarz and Saroken on my family’s shiva Zooms (a new concept in the Spring of 2020) was reassuring and comforting. For those 30 days after, I did daily morning and evening prayers and felt very connected to the clergy and explained with pleasure to my daughters what those funny-looking things were that I was putting on my head and arm.  

At the end of each Friday’s morning prayer, that day’s clergy mentioned the clergy connection at 11am, which has become appointment viewing for me.

At this time of my life, things begin to change very rapidly or not at all.  COVID has brought these experiences to the front of my thinking. As an only ‘child’ with no siblings to share toys, contests, or experiences, I’ve learned to easily be content in my solitude. Consequently, the onset of isolation as enforced by the virus was easy for me initially. 

I lived in my well-appointed condo with ease and little concern or disgruntlement. I worked out grocery delivery in a number of ways and had prepared food sent in. I discovered a multitude of entertainment opportunities on television. All was well. As time went on, I did, at times, dislike not being able to meet friends for whatever.  

After waiting for the restrictions to abate for a number of months, I proceeded with an established plan to move to a senior living residence where meals were delivered to my apartment door. All amenities were ceased. As my time on Zoom increased for meetings, classes, and various group activities, I felt this whole system was easily tolerated; and even desirable. I joined mahjongg and canasta groups to play online or masked in my building. The ‘new living’ was very comfortable. I spoke to my children and grandchildren on zoom and face time.  

Now, as my living facility begins to ‘open up’ and one finds a need for forming groups for dinner, etc., I have more feelings of anxiety. Hopefully, I’ll make the changes, establish more friendships and resume the comfort level familiar to me in my isolation.  

I recall March 12, 2020 you see
The memories are entrenched in the brain of me
Maryland’s governor announced several closings
Like the state’s public schools about which many 
questions one is posing

Like many we have lost family and friends
A loss that for us will never end
We feel hurt that they will not return
As our lives do feel a little bit burned

These losses during COVID brought additional pain
As we could not properly grieve which left us emotionally stained
And the worse part   of these permanent goodbyes
No funerals, shivas , viewings, just lots of solitary cries                

Well yes  I have experienced events so sad
But they have also made me feel so glad
To have Norma my so lovely bride                       
 Who gives me love, humor, healing, and is always by  my side            

 Furthermore, a gift that never ends
Is the fact that I have two wonderful daughters and so many kind friends
Though I have in more than a year not seen most of them.
It has been a delight to be in touch via the                                                                                                 Communiques we mutually send

A love of mine has always been sports
Not just to root but their histories of all sorts
Well, during COVID I appreciate them more
Even when watching in person has not been in store
             
So this is the time to finish my thoughts
Of this virus against which we have all fought
My final idea that to you I do tell
Is the hope that you and yours stay safe and yes well

This past year has been truly challenging for me. Being a single mom and having to work full time from home, while supervising my daughter’s virtual school and just making sure she’s ok while I’m busy with work, has been the most challenging thing I’ve had to deal with in the past few years. And to top it all, missing my family in Israel so much and not being able to see them has been incredibly tough.

Despite all the challenges, I’m grateful that my 6-year-old daughter, Jazz, and I got to share some special moments together and learn new things, it’s been amazing seeing her growing into a mature young lady. We’ve had some pretty interesting conversations that I never thought we’d get to have at this stage in her life. We explored nature, got to go to some places we’ve never been to around Maryland, she got to sing and play her guitar on our balcony for all of our neighbors to see during quarantine, we painted rocks and papers, and even got to move to a new apartment in a new city.

Through it all, Beth El has been incredibly supportive and understanding, working with our magnificent team has truly made things a little easier during such a strange time. It’s been truly inspiring seeing our entire community, from young to old, adjust overnight from in-person activities to an all-virtual world.

The world has been through a lot in the past year, enough to make us all learn a thing or two. I can speak for myself when I say that I hope we only grow and learn from it and become better versions of ourselves. This has been an experience neither one of us will ever forget.

I look forward to better times, when we all go back to some kind of normal, visit and hug our families, our kids go back to school in-person full time, and we all go back to Beth El and enjoy some time talking to each other and sharing our experiences in-person.

Two years ago, when I was applying for the job I currently have, the hiring manager asked me what my dream job would be. I laughed because, if you had asked me that question in my 20s, I would have said to work in the marketing department for the Baltimore Orioles or Baltimore Ravens. But in my mid-30s, that answer had changed – if someone were to offer me a full-time salary to be a stay-at-home dad, I would have done it in a heartbeat. If I could have made one wish at that time, it would have been for the opportunity to have even more daddy/daughter time with Rebecca than I already did. Little did I know that, a year later, that wish would come true in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

I consider March 13, 2020 to be the anniversary of the pandemic for our family and I remember that day like it was yesterday. After it was announced that schools would be closed for two weeks, I went to Beth El after work to pick up Rebecca from school but honestly treated it like any other Friday. All the teachers were in the lobby to say goodbye and a few were even crying, but I truly believed that we would be back in that lobby again soon. Maybe not in two weeks, and maybe it would even be a month, but I firmly believed that Rebecca would complete her last year at Beth El School in her classroom with a real graduation ceremony like we had been dreaming about for four years. 

When the lockdowns started, I remember walking around our old neighborhood a lot those first few months and thinking about all the things I hoped would return so Rebecca could have as normal a summer as possible. I’m extremely grateful, and recognize how lucky we are, for how normal a summer it was given the circumstances. Beth El put on a fantastic and meaningful drive-thru graduation ceremony, the outdoor pool opened, Rebecca had a small birthday party, the JCC opened its summer camp, and we even took a few family trips to the beach. The only thing missing was baseball games, but she got a Zoom call with the Oriole Bird for her birthday and got to watch some games (and the hot dog race) on TV. When the fall rolled around, Beth Tfiloh opened its doors so Rebecca could spend her kindergarten year in the school.

Despite all that, the last year has still been tough on our family. Although we were spared the worse consequences of the pandemic, we know people who were not so lucky and mourned for them. And, like so many other families, we also had to celebrate birthdays and holidays over Zoom or from a distance on a driveway, Rebecca went 10 long weeks before she was able to leave the neighborhood or play with another kid, we spent the High Holidays in our basement instead of in shul, and the constant fear of the unknown hung like the sword of Damocles over our heads the entire time. We were luckier than some, less so than others, but thankful to have come out the other side healthy and safe.

Now, that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and brighter by the day. Almost our entire immediate family has received at least one does of the vaccine and my in-laws recently flew up from Florida to see their grandchildren for the first time in a year. The Passover seders won’t have as many people at them as they did in 2019, but there will be more than we had in 2020. Capacity limits are being lifted, the vaccines are being mass produced, and there is even talk of a return to normal over the summer (which would also certainly mean spending the High Holidays in shul this year).

Looking back to that job interview in the spring of 2019, I would not change my answer from when I was asked about my dream job. I always wanted more daddy/daughter time with Rebecca, and I got more than I ever thought I would. The circumstances were far from ideal but looking back on our scavenger hunts through the neighborhood, the class projects at the kitchen table, the games we made up outside, and the movies we watched together on the couch bring a smile to my face that helps to brighten up what was certainly a dark time in the world. She almost never stopped smiling, so neither did we. And now that a return to normal is around the corner, we can all hopefully have something to really smile about in the months ahead.

Singing My Way Through the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Reflection

Covid happened and I never thought I would be able to continue singing with the choir and I knew I would miss the music which has always been so important to me.

So, when Cantor King and Shazy started having Zoom choir rehearsals, I was intrigued-how would this work?.  Of course we all laughed through the typical glitches with zoom. TURN on your microphone. Turn off your microphone. I can’t hear you. Wait we have to sing while we are on mute What?  

For me this was a wonderful gift to be able to continue to sing and be with my wonderful Choir.  The variety of music including show tunes, prayers, and other Jewish music help me learn so many things. Sometimes I would get frustrated as I recorded and mess up one section and  have to start over but Shazy kept telling us how the congregation appreciated everything we were doing and that help to motivate me to get all the music in. 

So I will conclude my thoughts with a thanks and deep gratitude to G-d for continued good health and for the knowledge, creativity and skills and love bestowed upon us to be able to stay connected with family friends and colleagues, and the ability to find joy through things like our singing together. We need these things to stay optimistic and strong through challenging times.

I, like almost everyone, never thought we would still be experiencing this “new normal” way of life.  I really thought that it would last, maybe 3 or 6 months – never this long.
 
I have never been one too long for a “working from home” position.  I enjoy structure in my life – a schedule and interacting with people.  SO I put structure into my work from my home position.  Actual hours for certain work projects – taking walks during my lunch break which helped to clear my mind and get me away from the desk – my dining room table.  My interaction with people was completely different.  I enjoyed making the Caring calls, seeing congregants through zoom for the Thursday teatime and checking in on my friends. 
 
Even though I speak to my sister, my best friend, every day it certainly is not the same as in person.  The same goes for our Beth El staff and family.  After being employed by Beth El for 48 years I have enjoyed the friendship of many of our congregants and I truly missed that part of my day. 
 
Of course during this time many celebrations have been put on hold but I am sure we will enjoy many more in the future.  I think this time has been one of self-reflection for all of us.  
 
Hopefully, we have turned the corner on this pandemic and we will be together very soon inside the beautiful walls of Beth El.

Just in the last few weeks,  I started watching the HBO show “The Leftovers.” It’s not really my favorite genre, it’s a paranormal story about people trying to resume their lives after 2 percent of the world’s population just suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

It’s a few years old, but I have found it oddly prescient given what we’ve all been through this last year. We’ve been trying to exercise normalcy over our lives given an entirely abnormal set of conditions.

I’m still not used to the sight of masks.  While of course I wear one and I’m fully compliant, they look to me like props in a bad Twilight Zone episode. I also can’t get used to people reflexively stepping away from each other as they take walks around their neighborhoods.

So many other signs that life has not been normal.  And yet.

Can we imagine for just one second if we’d had to go through this without WIFI? Without laptops and phones that have cameras?   

It’s too easy to assume that this year of adversity will permanently make us kinder to one another, more reflective and grateful.  That our differences will melt away, our discourse becomes less strident.

But in some ways it has, and it will. We can all see clearly now that teachers don’t just deserve our respect, They deserve our admiration. And a pay raise. And healthcare workers. And the laborers and small business owners and waiters and waitresses and the disenfranchised who frustratingly bore the brunt of this crisis while others of us could work from home.

Let me express my condolences to those in our community, and everywhere, who lost loved ones, and were robbed of even the opportunity to hold a funeral and mourn in the comfort of family and friends. And let me as well express my appreciation for our Beth El community of clergy, staff, fellow lay leaders and congregants.

As I write this, it’s an unusually warm March day. We’re all hoping it’s a sign.

I remember so well March 13, two thousand twenty

Life was good and we had plenty

Then along came THE virus

To sit down beside us

Mentioning Tiger or Babe, you need only one name,

Similarly with THE virus, you need not mention it’s the same

I thought that this cruel joke would last a week or two

But this nasty bug was more formidable than I knew

My vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds

Words like COVID, hand sanitizer and ventilators were making the rounds

Let us not forgot the most important tasks

Social distancing and wearing masks

Days of isolation led to weeks to months and now a year

I could look into people’s eyes and see their fear

Every night on the news I would see the number of deaths rise,

Please G-d let’s stop this pandemic as tears poured down from my eyes

With the hours in my job drastically cut and nowhere to go

My wife and I took to streaming our favorite show

Children, granddaughters and grandsons we could no longer see up close

That is what we missed the most

The real winner during this time is that four letter word Zoom

I can stay in my house and visit anyone anywhere in their room

To me this technology is second place

I much prefer to see everyone face to face.

Besides my family, I had my second family, Beth El

As President, so much was asked of me with little to tell

They want to know if they can come in the building to see their friends and pray

Do I have to be the bad guy and say not today?

Believe it or not it has been a year, oy, what a year

But the good news is that the vaccine is here

Everyone will soon be going back to stores

And yes we will be reopening our doors

Being President of this congregation is something I will always treasure

Seeing how everyone has cared for one another during this pandemic is my greatest pleasure

Wishing that everyone remains healthy and well

As I always like to say, next year in Beth El.

While we can do nothing about this past year, we can look forward to a better tomorrow

We can be optimistic about our future and bury our sorrow.

I wake up each morning and really value living and life

And as always I never forget to say I love you to my children, grandchildren and wife.

Wishing everyone a healthy rest of this year and beyond. Thank you for everything you have done for our great congregation.

Respectfully,

Ed Mishner, MD

President, Beth El Congregation of Baltimore

On the surface, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel were very different men. Dr. King was an African American preacher and civil rights leader, while Heschel was a rabbi and professor from a Hasidic background in Europe. But upon closer examination, their lives overlapped in a variety of ways.

Both men grew up in hostile environments where racism was a powerful force that affected their people: Dr. King, in the segregated South of the 1940s and 50s; Heschel in the anti-semitic culture of Poland and Germany in the 1920s and 30s. Moreover, Heschel and King’s respective childhoods groomed them to become religious leaders. Dr. King’s father was the pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Heschel was a descendant of some of the greatest rabbinic names in the Hasidic movement history. Both men were considered child prodigies. Legend has it that Heschel had already studied the vast majority of rabbinic literature – Talmud, Midrash, codes – before he became a Bar Mitzvah. For his part, King entered college at 15, graduated when he was 18, completed his seminary studies and was ordained as a minister at the tender age of 22, and completed his doctorate when he was 26. 

But despite all of these commonalities, Heschel and King came together around a shared philosophy and a common goal. The philosophy they shared came from two specific sources in the Hebrew Bible: the Prophets and the Exodus story. Heschel was an expert on the Prophets, having written his doctoral dissertation about them. He shared with Dr. King the sense that the prophetic message of social justice, mercy, and equality for all people, was especially needed in the modern world and applied specifically to civil rights. Not surprisingly, both King and Heschel both frequently cited the prophets – in their interviews, speeches, and writings – especially Isaiah, Micah, Amos.

The Exodus story was also personally meaningful to both men. At its core, that story is about the bitter toll of slavery, the painful struggle for freedom, and the hope of redemption. From 1963 to 1965, the Civil Rights Movement leaders often asked Rabbi Heschel to speak at rallies. When he spoke, Heschel almost always cited the Exodus story as a metaphor for the African American community’s experience in the United States. Dr. King frequently used the same imagery in his powerful speeches. As just one example, the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 began with an interfaith religious service – including Rabbi Heschel – during which Dr. King preached about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus. That day would produce the famous photograph of Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, and other religious leaders in the front line at the beginning of the march, locked arm in arm. Heschel returned from Alabama and told his students at the Jewish Theological Seminary that he felt he had prayed with his feet for the first time in his life. 

If that photograph of Heschel and King marching together is the public image of the relationship between those men, the following story illustrates their private relationship. Rabbi Jerry Zelermeyer recalls a Shabbat afternoon that he spent with Dr. Rabbi Heschel and his wife in New York City. Just as the sun was going down and Shabbat was ending, there was a knock on the door. Heschel went to the door and opened it, and suddenly warmly embraced two men who were standing there. One was William Sloan Coffin, the well known activist college chaplain. The other was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Heschel asked the men to come in, and he took out the Havdalah set. He gave Sloan Coffin the spices and Dr. King the Havdalah candle. Heschel chanted the blessings that ended Shabbat. “Now,” he said to his friends, “we must go back out into the world we need to change.”

It seems to me more than coincidental that each January, we mark Martin Luther King Day, and also, often during the same week, we remember Heschel’s yahrtzeit and birthday, January 11th. The message that brought those great religious leaders together is as relevant today as it was in their time: inequality, injustice, and racism exist, but despite all that hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and violence, we as human beings can always choose love. God calls each one of us to take a stand against those destructive forces so that one day we might complete the work of men like Dr. Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that time, we might finally change the world for the betterment of all humankind.

Copyright 2022 Beth El Congregation