New year, new thought: Let’s embrace what’s good right now


Sometimes, when I sit down to write this column, I stare at a blank page on my computer screen and I wonder where to begin.

My aim isn’t to be scholarly or to impart wisdom based on years of learning. My words aren’t a d’var Torah or a sermon. I’m more interested in writing about, life and thoughts based on personal observations. I relish my ability to tell you a good story or anecdote and share some of my community with you.

But that isn’t a guarantee that I won’t hit a roadblock when trying to sort through the stories that are all around us.

Take the ongoing pandemic, for instance. Summer started with the bright promise of sunny days and fewer restrictions. It looked like COVID-19 was on the downswing, shriveling under the onslaught of vaccines. Now, we seem to be slipping backward, despite the vaccinations.

Masks are back on for many. Gov. Dan McKee has announced that he’s reopening the Cranston Field Hospital. Schools are looking at reinstating mask mandates. The Delta variant has created fears of more breakthrough cases, and booster shots are starting later this month.

Is this our new normal?

As I write this, we are two weeks from 5782. What’s so new about all this? I wrote a column in August 2020 about the new normal. I lamented missed family gatherings and postponed simchot. I talked about meetings and programs gone virtual.

But here we are, more than a year later, and we are still not fully back to what we wish was normal.

Isn’t it time to just normalize where we are? Isn’t it time to realize that the precautions we have taken in the last year and a half may be here to stay for a while? Perhaps acknowledging, and accepting, that life has changed a bit will help us move forward more easily and take more positives from all of this.

We may talk about the good old days, pre-COVID-19, when we traveled maskless on airplanes – but in those good old days, we often came down with a cold a few days after a flight.

Worship may continue to be both in person and on Zoom for some time to come. We have all learned to pivot. And while we may not like it, let’s consider that Zoom is a wonderful option for those who can’t get to their synagogue but still want to worship with a congregation.

Online programming allows those near and far to join in via Zoom. Yes, we’d rather gather in person. But moving between virtual and in-person is a new skill that will open up our community to more and more participants. Virtual services, for example, will let me to join my sister as she leads her congregation in Connecticut this year.

Pikuah nefesh, the preservation of life, is fundamental to Judaism – a command that takes precedence even over Shabbat observance.

Many of our wisest advisers have urged us to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Some have said it’s our moral obligation to get vaccinated. Until more people take that advice, let’s stop romanticizing what was normal pre-COVID and instead embrace the normal of the here and now. As some would put it, it is what it is.

Let’s recognize the good – our ability to pivot, access to more options online, better health with masks, more appreciation of the chances we have to be together – and celebrate the potential of another new year.

Let’s be safe, take advantage of what we have now and have a sweet, happy, hopeful and healthy new year!

Fran Ostendorf, Editor