You don’t have to search very hard to find some new way in which this coronavirus has made life difficult and depressing for someone. Which is why baby boomer Rita Plush’s sad story from her home in Queens, New York, hit us so hard. She has had to adapt to self-isolation, in the worst of times.
When my son died this past November after enduring ALS for nine years, I said Kaddish for him. That’s the daily Jewish memorial prayer in honor of a loved one. Kaddish is recited in the presence of a minyan, which means ten or more adult Jews assembled in one place. I also made it my business to get up every morning, dress, and drive to my synagogue for services, sometimes as early as 6:30am.
Yiskah-dol v’yiska-dosh sh-may ra’bbo, the ancient Aramaic prayer begins, linking me to, and making me part of, all Jews who had come before me and honored their loved ones with the Kaddish prayer. It is a heritage of which I am extremely proud.
The routine grounded me. It helped me put structure and a sense of order back into my disordered life. It helped me believe I was still in control of something when the reality was, all manner of control had been taken from me.
And then the menace of the coronavirus struck. And made it worse.
No large gatherings. Stay home. Don’t spread it.
Echoing this dictum, on March 16th my rabbi sent out an email to the congregation. Instead of praying together at our synagogue, we would use the app GoToMeeting for high definition, online, video prayers. What was once a communal event that was giving me some measure of comfort with my living, breathing, and fellowship, would become me staring at a screen in my home office.
I think I took it personally: there’s a deadly virus going around the world killing everyone, and although my son died, I can’t pray the way I want to. I stayed away from the GoToMeeting prayers, but not from my pajamas, but after a few days I realized I was being foolish. I got dressed, put on some makeup (routine, routine), and logged on.
And there they were, my comrades in prayer, not in full persona, not in-the-flesh, not next to me or in front of me or behind me, but their heads and chests in little squares lined up at the top of my laptop screen. The siddur, the prayer book, showed as a single page. A little arrow, directed by the rabbi from his computer, cursed down the screen showing the part of the service we were up to. I missed the comforting heft of a book in my hands, feeling the paper between my fingertips. But still, the regulars chanted their parts in the collective service. And I was a part of it.
There was no Kaddish, because according to Jewish law, we were not assembled for prayer in the same place. Instead, we read a prayer that asks God to accept our yearnings as if we were together and that “peace reign everywhere.”
I sure could use some peace now. Peace of mind that this horror we all are living through will soon be over. And though my present prayer service it isn’t of the type I want, it is what is available.
For that I am surely grateful.
Rita’s book is, Feminine Products.