Loss and the Shofar

August 7, 2020 in Rabbi Greg Harris

I miss you.  I miss coming together as a community.  I miss chatting over tuna after services.  I miss the amazing banana bread with chocolate chips from Sunflower Bakery after services.  (This is my Achilles Heal of sweets.)  I miss hugs and handshakes.  I miss the voices of children filling the playground and the hallways as they grow Jewishly and cement friendships, some of which will become lifelong connections.  I miss celebrating together and comforting each other.  As incredible as ‘Zoom’ encounters are… I miss you.

We are experiencing a real loss.  It is tangible.  My sense of loss encompasses many parts of my life – social, educational, professional, emotional, and spiritual.  Additionally, I am concerned about the impact this is having on my children and their peers.

Even if we do not often voice these losses, I know I am not alone in this experience.  I comfort myself realizing we are all experiencing pandemic conditions thus everyone’s life has shifted, but this intellectualized truth does not always quell the raw emotions of upheaval.  It is only a modicum of comfort knowing we are all in this together.

Naming these losses is different than despair though.

Despite all of these difficulties, I do not despair.  I resist moments of catastrophizing because I know this upside down and sideways time will eventually be behind us.  As the adage teaches, Gam zeh ya’avor – this too shall pass.

Despair is an emotional cousin to hopelessness.  Within my sense of Judaism and community, I find hope.

From the siddur to the machzor, there are messages of hope and repair.  In our daily liturgy, the rabbis incorporated the psalmists words from 2,500 years ago:  “God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Ps 147:3)  I turn to this verse often not as a statement of God’s medical acumen but of God’s ability for spiritual healing in difficult times – such as now.

Further, with Rosh Hashanah only six weeks away, the blessing of the Shofarot service also lifts me.  I read this prayer in a new way this year.  As each call of the shofar is unique – T’kiah, Sh’varim, and Tru’ah, the Tru’ah blasts are nine staccato sounds.  Each is broken yet together they combine into this beautiful call.

Baruch atah Adoani, shome’ah kol tru’at amo yisrael b’rachamin.

Praised are You, who listens to the tru’at (stuttering) voice of His people Israel with compassion.

Like the Tru’ah sounds, I feel the interrupted patterns of life today.  Judaism does not hide these broken calls but places them at the center of our peak prayer experience.

Realizing our diverse losses, Rabbi Werbin, Hazzan Fradkin, and myself along with the entire Beth El staff and leadership are creating new moments for us to experiences the High Holidays.  We are finalizing details for neighborhood clusters to gather and hear the shofar blasts.  In limited groups, we will reflect on the themes of the holidays.  More information about all the High Holiday experiences is coming.

I miss you… but I also know we are connected.  We are not just a community in name but also in care and compassion for each other.  We must continue to check in with each other, support each other, and lift each other’s spirits as needed.  Additionally, join us for Shabbat services each week (click here) and experience the new ways people are participating from home for an aliyah, offering a special prayer and in other ways.  Throughout Beth El, we continue to adapt to our unsettled times. Even with these losses, I remain hopeful and grounded in our Tradition and each other.

If you are in need of connection, please reach out to any of the clergy for support.