“Let the old year and its curses end; let the new year and its blessings begin” (Babylonian Talmud).
It’s been a weird year. Hard to believe that last year, on Rosh Hashanah, we all gathered together by the hundreds and prayed, not socially distanced, no masks, no Purell. As a community, we sang the following words: “Our Father, our King, renew for us a good year ... remove from us all harsh decrees ... hold back the plague ... send a complete healing to the sick of your people ... renew us for a good life. ...”
Who could have foreseen that a scant three months after those prayers, a virus would emerge in Wuhan, China, that would render all those prayers newly rarefied? I suspect that our prayers this year will hold a renewed urgency, bronzed with the patina of suffering and mortality.
Judaism teaches that everything that happens to us each year is predetermined on Rosh Hashanah. So, what happened this year since last Rosh Hashanah?
In fall 2019, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg emerged as a climate activist and was named person of the year by Time Magazine. The first all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station finally took place. Vaping was linked to dozens of deaths across the United States. A New Zealand volcano killed 16 people. In December, President Donald Trump faced impeachment hearings.
In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency. By mid-March, we were on lockdown. Schools, synagogues and businesses shut down in an unprecedented emergency measure. Also in March, two suicide bombers deployed bombs near the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. Israel held no less than three sets of elections, leading to Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu sharing the premiership.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was rumored as dead, which turned out to be greatly exaggerated. In May, George Floyd was killed, sparking protest and riots across the country and the world, and opening many new conversations about race. In June, 81 people died after a suspected Boko Haram attack in northeast Nigeria and Beijing faced its second lockdown. On Aug. 4, a giant explosion in Beirut killed 135 people and injured another 5,000. This month saw Joe Biden announce Kamala Harris as his running mate, and the U.S. Post Office continues to face mail delays as the election looms.
What about internally?
Our son’s bar mitzvah took place in February, with hundreds of guests (hard to fathom now), which was a dream come true for our family. Our other son got married in May in a “corona” ceremony in our backyard with attendance of
20 people, and we welcomed our very first daughter-in-law to the family. Many of our friends and relatives participated over Zoom, which was a wonderful way to be connected when we couldn’t be connected.
We spent many days in lockdown singing together, walking together, praying together and enjoying family game nights and movie nights. I already miss it.
And now the kids have gone back to school (shout out to the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights) and I am back at my office, hoping and praying that the good parts, the silver linings of the Jewish year 5780 will remain, while the curses, the attacks, the plagues (killer hornets, locusts, etc.), the killings, the natural disasters and those inflicted by humans will be stopped. Reflecting back on the year is vital. It’s chilling to think of all that hung in the balance a year ago.
What will you be praying for this year?