Today was a surreal day.
It was my mother’s 12th Yahrzeit (anniversary of death on the Jewish calendar). It was also Purim, one of the most joyous and fun days in Judaism. But that juxtaposition wasn’t what made today surreal.
On a Yahrzeit, it is traditional to attend a prayer service in order to recite the Kaddish prayer at each of the three services on that day. Last night, I was at the congregation where I am the rabbi and was able to say Kaddish. This morning, I was at the synagogue down the street where I was also able to say Kaddish. The problem was finding a place to go this afternoon. Most places hold afternoon services later–precisely at the time when I am working at the gym. The rabbi at the congregation where I went this morning (whose wife was a participant in a youth group trip to Israel and Poland that I led over 30 years ago) spoke to another rabbi who mentioned that there would be a service at 2:05 pm at a small synagogue in the basement of someone’s home about a mile away. Are you following this? I got there and what a crowd! I was able to say Kaddish which was the main thing.
As I was about to leave, a man came up to me and asked me for directions to a store nearby. I looked right at him and said “you’re….” and before I could finish he said his last name. I introduced myself and his face lit up. He was the rabbi at the Orthodox synagogue in Toledo at the same time I was the rabbi at the Conservative synagogue in Toledo. We had worked in the same community for five years but hadn’t seen each other in well over fifteen years. We filled each other in briefly on what was going on in our lives and it was great to catch up.
He reflected on how appropriate this was for Purim. The story of Purim is based on the Book of Esther. This is a book that is filled with disparate plot lines that seem random at first but which ultimately all come together. Without just one of the plot twists, the story would not work and–according to the Book of Esther–the Jews of Shushan would have been slaughtered. His point was that what sometimes seems random may actually be part of God’s plan.
This was a good point. He had moved to Israel many years ago but moved back to the US. He and his wife live in the Chicago area where they usually spend holidays but they decided (in the midst of Coronavirus) to drive to Cleveland to be with their daughter and her family. I didn’t know they were in the US. He didn’t know I was in Cleveland. And we both ended up at the same prayer service; consider that in Cleveland every day there are literally dozens of places to pray. Under normal circumstances, I would have prayed on my own, but because it was my mother’s Yahrzeit, I had to find a service to go to. How did we end up at the same place, and why did he approach me to ask for directions?
We are all connected. Even when we think life is random, little signs can show us that there is order, or we may even sense God’s actions in our world. That connection made my day. It was great to see an old friend.
This happened on the same day that my daughter was informed that her classes after spring break will all be done via computer in order to avoid Coronavirus contact. We found out yesterday that it has spread to Ohio, and to the county in which I live, and to individuals in the Jewish community. Organizations are closing. The JCC has cancelled some events. People are “self-quarantining.”
This was all inevitable. How could it not spread? We are all connected. For better or for worse.
I only hope that the current health crisis will not be as dire as has been predicted. I pray that it is only a “close call” that will help us be better prepared in the future. Most fervently I hope that despite our inability to literally connect physically (shaking hands, etc.), we will not forget that at a most basic level we are connected to each other in many positive ways. Those connections are a gift from God.
Today was surreal. Connected spiritually and disconnected physically. I look forward to the day when we can truly be connected in every way.