Sunday, May 17, 2020

Social Distancing made me "normal" in the Jewish community

Breslov Hasid praying in the woods
Breslov Hasid making hisboddidus
(courtesy of Wikipedia)
For literally decades, I have been an anomaly in the Jewish community. As a Hasid who lives far away from the nearest synagogue, I have endured a lot of guilt-tripping from fellow Jews about why I should not live where there is no minyan, and lectures about "not cutting myself off from the community."  To a lot of people, being Jewish is so tightly tied to city living that potential converts living in rural areas have sometimes been turned down because "you just can't do Judaism" in the country.

And to a lot of Jews in the city, I ceased to exist once we moved to the country.  (At one point, several years ago, when Caryl and I needed some assistance, neither the Twin Cities nor Duluth Jewish Social Services would claim us, since we were not in their jurisdictions.)

Then along comes COVID19 and social distancing.  All the synagogues are ordered to close -- and right before Passover yet.   Suddenly the whole Jewish world is finding themselves trying to figure out how to practice without a minyan, without family, without personal contact.  How do you fill the time on Shabbat?  How do you make a Seder?  If you can't get parsley or horseradish, what else can you use?  Can you say kaddish on Zoom?  Etc.

 I have spent a lot of time online answering these and similar questions.  Years of hisboddidus (Rebbe Nachman's form of solitary prayer and meditation)   prepared me for this isolating  crisis.  Suddenly my experience here in the North Woods has become a valuable resource.  No longer the community crackpot, I am suddenly an expert on how to cope with the new normal as a Jew.

Kabbalah teaches that there are Holy Sparks everywhere that need to be lifted up out of  exile.  Sometimes, the Baal Shem Tov taught, we are sent by God to remote places, specifically to find these Sparks.  I won't be so egotistical as to claim that moving to Pine County, Minnesota was a mission from God. But I will cite the teaching that each Jew is like a letter of the Torah, and that if even one letter is missing, the Torah is incomplete.  My "letter," as eccentric as it may seem to some people , has value. No sincere effort, no experience in God's world is ever wasted. Not even for us outliers.

I will close this essay with a little video I did about lighting my campfire on Lag B'Omer here in the North Woods.   Just because we weren't able to gather in huge crowds around the bonfires this year doesn't mean we could not celebrate.  When I made this bonfire, I had in mind to be spiritually connected to Jews around the world.  And I felt that connection deeply, in my heart and soul.

UPDATE:  Here we are, a year later, and still in the pandemic.  The video below combines footage from last year with some of my current thoughts on how this pandemic parallels the plague in the time of Rabbi Akiva.