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.


Anya said...

No comments? That's terrible :) You sent me some feathers a few years ago and I just came across them again this evening. I am not Jewish, but your love of animals and the way you write is what keeps me coming back, though I don't always leave a comment. If only there were more people like you in the world, it could be a wonderful place. There is so much, too much, to be sad and depressed about - it's often a struggle. For that reason, isolating at home since March has not been a struggle - most people are so disappointing, or miles away from my beliefs, so much so that I don't miss them much. The solitude and peace of my messy garden (back problems) is a balm for my mind a lot of the time. Anyway, best wishes from a very rainy and humid night in Quebec Canada, 6 cats too - Elvie, Lily, Tristan, Zena, Ginja, and Kobi. 🐈 - Anna

Yonassan Gershom said...

Thank you, Anya. Be well, stay safe.

Anonymous said...

I've just come upon this blog, rabbi Gershom! As such will still have to check it out some more but loved the Lag baOmer clip even though it's (well, in a month) almost Chanukah ....!

Wanted to go to but got a warning that it was certainly not a safe website (warning from Firefox). Maybe compromised due to the brave and unfortunately oh so true statements you made about the horrific way animals are grown and 24/7 maltreated in the animal farming industry factories (as inside the slaughterhouses and on cattle transports all over the world). Of course, it's a wild guess but I know from experience these people are not the knndest... Anyway, maybe it's something else entirely, maybe Firefox is dead wrong (?).

Have read Beyond the Ashes and From Ashes to Healing and esp. the first book filled to the brim with background (Jewish) information which was really in depth. Lots of things confirmed me in what I had felt, sensed, known (all combined) over a period of time before I even got to buy your book. For seventeen years I had forgotten about it after an initial "Nah.... not for me." in 2002 when I came upon it on the Intenet. Then all of a sudden in February 2019: I had to have it! Strange phenomenon...I usually don't act or react or live that way. Anyway, it brought me on the path of also discovering which camp I'd been which I'd seen in my dreams as a five year old. I won't bother you with it for you've clearly moved on and so have I.

I'm enjoying the fact you're still settled and live in the countryside and both enjoy it! Good for you both. And I was appalled to read that some Yid'n are as narrow-minded and judgmental as they're here (Holland, Europe). Cutting yourself off from the community? In your case as I remember from your book: don't think so! You had no choice. God knows what He did even though the direct cause was not very pretty. I hope your wife's good. Well, too much talk from me. Stay healthy and safe (sei gesund und shtark; Don't have Hebrew font so can't write it in Yiddish) and peace & blessings for you and your ganze mishpoche! Gut Chanukah! Abigail B. (Emma Kant is me. My initials are M.A. from Michal Abigayil.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Who knows why FireFox flagged it? I have written about a lot of controversial things, from animal abuse to antisemitism to bullying to politics. Their robots could have picked up on something from any one of those pages. Maybe the one that mentioned animal rights and Covid19? They seem to flag everything about COVID right now. Hard to know what "safe" means nowadays to the web bots.

I got flagged by a Facebook admin for explaining that the "R-word" is "Retarded." People were talking about the R-word in reference to it being insulting to intellectually-challenged people, and somebody asked what the R-word was, so I told them. If you don't want people to use a word, they at least have to know what it is!

I also got kicked out of an FB group called "The Northern Way of Life" for trying to explain that Hanukkah is not a "Jewish Christmas." They were having a Christmas photo contest and when I asked about including Hanukkah, he said it didn't have to be "religious," I could use elves and Santa. When I explained we don't use those and questioned whether he would know how to judge a photo with Hanukkah symbols, he kicked me out. He actually said "The group is not politically correct, if you don't like it, leave." Two non-Christian friends who stood up for me also got banned. Guess Jews are not in his definition of "Northern Life." I then got followed by a goysplainer from the group who tried to convince me that Hanukkah really is part of the "Christmas Season" because when he visited his Jewish friends, the only difference was the decorations. Duh...

Anyway, thank you for soldiering on and visiting me anyway. Glad you enjoyed my book and hope you will continue to visit my blog.

Anonymous said...

Yonasson, please email me for some information about the so-called plague at the time of rabbi Akiva. Recent scholarship has shown that this plague was a euphemism for the soldiers who died in the bar kochba rebellion that Akiva had endorsed.