What we missed in 2020 – and what we hope for in 2021

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After a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, Jewish Rhode Island asked several people what they missed most in 2020 and whether they’re optimistic about 2021.

The answers had a common theme: People can’t wait to resume visiting friends and relatives, and they missed the little things in life, such as shaking hands and hugging loved ones. Our respondents also missed live concerts and theater, traveling and attending Shabbat services.

On the second question, many said they’re cautiously optimistic about 2021 being marginally better than 2020, citing the arrival of the first vaccine doses, but most are skeptical that 2021 will bring us closer to our pre-pandemic existence.

The emailed responses, listed alphabetically and edited for space, follow. More comments can be found at www.jewishrhody.org.

Mim Brooks Fawcett, 58, of Pawtucket, executive director and chief curator of the Attleboro Arts Museum.

She misses: “The Attleboro Arts Museum’s Flower Show. It’s a highlight of the year and the darling of the community. The event was scheduled to begin March 18. We were all dressed up and ready to go, but were forced to cancel the four-day and one-night event, and to close our doors the day that we typically have our largest flower show audience. I’m hopeful that we can pull off a modified flower show in 2021. Our loss was substantial this year – in both spirit and revenue.”

Outlook: “I’m an eternal optimist, so absolutely. There’s such a high demand for art, color, community and positivity. 2021 should deliver. We can only go up.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser, 57, of Temple Sinai, in Cranston.

He misses: “Just being with other people, in person, face to face, with no computer screens in between. I miss being in the temple and shaking hands with people as they come into the building. I miss giving a friend a warm hug. I miss kissing people on the cheek. I miss holding the hand of someone who is in pain. I miss laughing with friends. I miss talking with people over scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee.”

Outlook: “I don’t expect 2021 to be like 2019. I don’t think we’re ever going back to the world the way it used to be. But I do believe that with the coming of vaccinations, we will eventually return to a time when we can gather in groups, pray together, study together, eat meals together, and do the things that fill a community with warmth and human touch. I am also hopeful that this era of anger and distrust will slowly thaw into a time of greater kindness and tolerance. I think people are tired of being so angry all the time.”

Kevin Olson, 62, of Cranston, a theater teacher at three Rhode Island colleges and the founder and artistic director of FirstHand Theatrical in Rhode Island.

He misses: “So hard to pick just one ... besides visiting other people and teaching in person, I missed attending live performances the most.”

Outlook: “I am oh so cautiously optimistic about 2021. While the pandemic will be with us for most, if not all, of the year, and our political and social realities will be marginally improved, mostly my optimism relies on the hope that our empathy and compassion for others will increase if we want 2022 to be a really better year.”

Charlotte Sheer, 69, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, a retired educator and founder of the Holocaust Stamps Project at Foxboro Regional Charter School, in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

She misses: “Besides missing a friend’s wedding and extensive family time, including a Bar Mitzvah and a milestone birthday celebration, we were forced to cancel five months of camping plans, which would have included a four-day music festival and travel outside of New England.”

Outlook: “Taking a wait-and-see approach to all things 2021. The promising prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine becoming available is, of course, cause for optimism, but it’s hard to be overly joyful since human nature (and grumblings already being heard) suggests that a large number of people will want to opt out of taking the preventative action of getting inoculated, even as it becomes more accessible. This could unnecessarily delay an end to the pandemic.”

Lawrence Goodman, 50, of Providence, a playwright.

He misses: “I miss sitting in cafes and writing. I miss hearing kids play when I walk through the park near my home. I miss handshakes and hugs.”

Outlook: “Yes, I’m optimistic (very unlike me). Though we’re undoubtedly going to pass through a horrific and tragically avoidable winter, by spring science will come to the rescue. There’s every reason to believe that, unprecedented in human history, we will have come up with a vaccine for an infectious disease in record time and be able to distribute it to hundreds of millions of people in the United States effectively and efficiently. My one big worry is how the vaccine will be distributed in the developing world. We won’t be safe in this country until the whole world is safe.”

Larry Katz, 66, director of Jewish life and learning for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

He misses: “I most missed visiting my mother. I celebrated her 99th birthday with her just before the pandemic lockdown. We drove down to Virginia Beach in August, but we could only peer at her through a window and talk on a cellphone. It was nothing like the usual visits in her apartment and family gatherings for dinner. And now we missed our Thanksgiving with her, and will not be with her for her 100th. Besides that, we missed a couple of weddings, baby-namings and traveling.

“Professionally, I had some big ideas for in-person activities – that I hoped might be transformative – that just won’t happen this year. You just can’t do some of these things online and have the same impact. However, we are offering online programs that are engaging, very accessible, and even possibly life-changing.”

Outlook: “I doubt we will be anywhere near normal until 2022. For the Jewish Alliance, I deal with young people who travel to Israel or go to summer overnight camps, both of which are life-changing opportunities. I hope that camps can reopen. Long-term programs in Israel have continued. However, many students who had planned on short-term programs last summer may not have the chance to go on them again unless Israel allows them this summer.”

Sherri Dressler Klein, 61, of Cranston, a wedding and event planner who runs Sherri Dressler Klein Events, in Cranston.

She misses: “As a wedding planner, I missed the excitement and adrenaline rush that I would get prepping for and carrying out a wedding. Unfortunately, this year brought lots of uncertainty and disappointment surrounding changed/altered plans.”

Outlook: “I am optimistic for what this next year will hold. I cannot wait for my brides and grooms to experience their special days just as they had always dreamed. There is always a big bright blue sky hiding behind dark clouds. Here’s to dreaming and celebrating together again soon.”

Stuart Skerker, 65, of Attleboro, a retired computer analyst and freelance reporter. 

He misses: “What I miss the most about 2020 is going out to stores and just browsing. I also miss going to shul. I miss seeing everyone on Shabbat morning and the togetherness of praying together. Yes, Zoom has been terrific, but it’s just not the same as being together. I also miss being able to go visit my parents at will.”

Outlook: “No, I’m not optimistic for 2021. The pandemic has done tremendous damage to the economy, and there will need to be a lot of give and take on both sides of Congress before the healing can begin. The anti-vaccine movement appears to be stronger than I care to realize, which means COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. What I really want for 2021 is for the world to go back to its pre-COVID normal state.”

Rabbi Alex Weissman, 37, of Providence, spiritual leader of Congregation Agudas Achim, in Attleboro.

He misses: “Personally, I really miss having people at our Shabbat table. Cooking for two means fewer dishes to clean up, but it also means that we don’t get to engage in hachnasat orchim – the practice of welcoming guests. I look forward to welcoming people into our home with food, song and the joy of Shabbat.”

Outlook: “The news about vaccines certainly seems promising, and at the same time, nothing is certain. It’s a delicate balance of staying present with what is and being hopeful about a better tomorrow. In Lamentations 3:29, we read ‘Maybe there is hope.’ As long as there’s a maybe, I can stay hopeful.”

LARRY KESSLER (larrythek65@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at https://larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.