Lights ... camera ... action!
These words are familiar accompaniments to making a film, but historically not intrinsic to a High Holiday service. In the past several months, our world has changed as dramatically as any movie script. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors have lost loved ones, income, opportunities, health, precious life minutes without human touch, adequate food, climate controls, any familiar sense of routine. Losses, rather than blessings, are piling up and are counted.
Although Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come every year, they have not come like this. In the interest of public health and safety, 5781 will herald a new era of High Holiday remote viewing.
With a loss of personhood, in some cases, seniors can feel like something viewed remotely. For months, they have been sheltering in place in specialized communities, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, apart from other members of the broader population.
Whether at home, in a single family dwelling on a suburban street, an apartment in the city or a room in a health care facility, the High Holidays will meet seniors where they are. But will it be enough?
Mixed feelings arise in anticipation of a different ritual experience. As hope (at least there will be something, although in a different form) and loss (through unwanted change) intersect, seniors miss loved ones they cannot see in person. They miss loved ones who have died. They miss the sensory experience of holy books, being in a room filled with people davening and hearing voices rise to Heaven.
For some, the High Holidays were the only time they went to synagogue all year and that sustained them. They will miss the gathering, the way it used to be, the way it always was.
Is wisdom with the aged and understanding in length of days? (Job 12:12)
Beautiful, red, orange, pink and yellow roses bloom by the lake behind my home. However, in the past two months, leaves have withered and blossoms have disintegrated in the blistering heat. Hidden beneath the ground, where a steady stream of water nourishes them, are roots. They have been there a long time and will assure new growth in the fall.
Seniors have been especially challenged to locate spiritual waters in recent months. On the surface, things can look daunting, discouraging, disabling. Part of the difficulty is their position in time: They are closer to the end of life. Therefore, they recognize that each minute is precious and not to be squandered.
I often hear their yearnings: I don’t want my last days to be filled with nothing. I want to go, to do, to see, if I am able. I want to be seen. I want to give and receive. I want to be of use, not locked away.
On the other hand, connections to their cultural and religious roots remain part of their resilience. These roots quietly and steadfastly combat the brittleness of pandemic restrictions and instability, providing perspective and balance: We survived before, and we will again.
Another significant response to the pandemic has been introspection. Seniors have been listening deeply to their hearts and asking powerful questions: What is important to me now? What do I really want to do? Where do I want to be? What have I missed along the way, when I wasn’t paying attention? Whom do I love? Who truly loves me (for myself — not what I can do for them)?
Brutal moments of authenticity have chipped away at habits that once served them well, in a different place and time. New ways of walking in the world have been illuminated and clarified. Before the Gates close, we can listen to them. We can make opportunities for our elders to share the poetry of their souls and nourishment of their roots, within new technologies.
Their narratives are also holy and this is precious, sacred time, after all. JN
Rabbi Mindie Snyder serves as the rabbi and chaplain for Sun Health Communities.