As a full-time congregational rabbi, a wife and a mom of two children, I am keenly aware of the importance of using time efficiently. While normally, people think about Jewish time as being late to everything, the notion of Jewish time has helped create and infuse structure and meaning into my life in general, and certainly during this time of Covid-19, where it feels like days and weeks just keep moving forward and we aren’t sure how we have spent more time inside than outside.
When the quarantine happened in the middle of March, we made the rule in our house that daytime needed to feel different than nighttime and that weekdays should feel different than weekends. While we have basically accomplished that, I am sure that one of the main reasons we could do it is because of the Jewish rituals during the day, week and year.
Sutton Place Synagogue, where I serve as a rabbi, made the decision to immediately pivot and start offering virtual opportunities for daily, Shabbat and holiday services. While there has been debate in the Conservative movement’s rabbinate about how one should do this from a Jewishly legal framework, and I understand that this has been a difficult decision for many who don’t normally use electronics on Shabbat, this was a decision that I made, in conjunction with the lay leadership of my congregation, and we haven’t looked back. Why? Because convening our community during these moments, at the moments when they occur, has not only maintained our connections, but has provided our community members with the comfort that communal Judaism doesn’t pause, even if New York is on Pause.
In Thomas Cahill’s book, “The Gifts of the Jews,” he showed that what Judaism brought to the world was the gift of time, creating an approach that encouraged people to see a beginning and an end to many moments, with rituals to mark that. We don’t need to look further than the book of Genesis to understand the importance of counting each day. Clearly, Shabbat is the most obvious of such markers. But it is also the daily flow of the morning and evening minyan that helps one structure their day. While for many it is because of the need to say Kaddish, an important decision to honor a loved one, I have heard from many of my congregants that having these Zoom services has helped give meaning and purpose each day of quarantine. It has been incredible how our notion of community has been expanded beyond normal geographic limitations.
With the eight days of Passover already a month behind us, we now find ourselves counting up the days towards the Jewish holiday of Shavuot; then we will transition to the three weeks leading into the dark day of the 9th of Av, where we mourn the destruction of The Temple, and eventually we will contemplate the 10 days of repentance during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. I don’t know when we will be “back” to meeting in person, but one thing I can be sure of: The decision to have services and celebrate the Jewish holidays as a community, despite it being virtual, has allowed us to live out our current motto of being physically distant but spiritually connected.
During these times, when we are searching for some control and structure, I invite you to find a way to make time meaningful to you. We don’t know where we will be physically sitting and praying over the next several months, but we do know that Judaism and our community will be here to help guide us and situate us, at the time we need it most.
Rabbi Rachel Ain is the spiritual leader of Sutton Place Synagogue, a Conservative synagogue in Midtown Manhattan.