Let’s Start Here: The Return To Synagogue
by Dorit Sasson
1. Let’s start here… sundown on Friday before the Shabbat meal. The candles melt even faster because of the air-conditioner’s full-blast. Your home, a haven, a shelter from the storm, a place of comfort to come into after a long tiring week of digital noise. The little one is snuggling in song and in your arms. Tomorrow marks the first Shabbat of synagogues opening – another chapter of surrendering, which you are hoping will be a peaceful Shabbat.
2. Let’s start here… the hum of dialogue that gets louder with your plea for safety. For the last three months, you’ve been hoping your secret mantra – “trust you’re protected” will get your family and the rest of the community back to synagogue. When your frontline worker of a husband quietly leaves at dawn, you hold unto these words. Each morning, you’ve come to believe deeply in the logic of the “Modeh Ani” prayer. You thank G-d for another day of life against the background of death, for you now value this one precious thing called life so much.
3. Let’s start here… with the words of the priestly blessing that your husband recites as he lays his head on you and on the golden red hair of your kids: May Adonai bless you and guard you, May Adonai make his face shine unto you, and be gracious to you, May Adonai lift up His face unto you and give to you peace. For the past 3 months, you’ve been holding his strong firm hand in place as if to say, “Don’t move it. Protect me.” You don’t tell him that you’ve been asking G-d for a peaceful sleep. You’ve prayed for the community’s return. All those months you prayed outside – under stars, in front of your crab apple tree, the makeshift mechitzah that divides you and the neighbors, members of your synagogue whose prayers have risen like balloons. Now you are afraid of the things you don’t understand.
4. Let’s start here… on Shabbat morning. The holiness of the day rises like a full moon or spring bloom and you go through the list again why you personally want to return to synagogue. Still there’s the fearful thought that the virus might be lurking. You remind yourself – it’s Shabbat. Trust that you’re protected.
5. Let’s start here… the ascent up the streets in the oppressive heat you’ve jokingly call “the mountain.” The familiar mile walk takes you past new signs of life: Feng Shui type gardens being built, iron fences. Since when did this neighborhood brim with so much life? In the borderline spring of winter, the daffodils were just beginning to reveal their snowy yellow heads. You conclude that in the green zone, people are craving to return to life. And now it’s nearly summer. A season within a cycle people crave, just like the spiritual hunger of returning to synagogue.
6. Let’s start here… as you approach the synagogue’s entrance. You wait for the door to open and you breathe a sigh of relief when the door opens by the friendly security guard. You say, “It feels like ages, lifetimes since we first met.” You look at him deeply and want to say so much, for this moment is so surreal but all you can say is, “Boy, am I glad to see you here.” Your cells have been traumatized. You’ve self-imposed against your will to be anti-social and yet this moment affirms that you are not. You crave connection just as much as spirituality.
7. Let’s start here… with the Torah portion of Naso, the literal translation is “uplift.” The message that G-d gives Moshe, the quintessential Jewish leader, is to uplift the people as his primary job. At the back of the synagogue the rabbi is lifting us all to feel more centered, connected spiritually. What did I do to be a leader trying to pray around the table and read the Torah portion all those months? I try not to discount the little things – checking in with the neighbors to make sure they had Passover food, milk, challah, a bag of apples. For a leader is a human. You don’t always need a leader to stay uplifted. If anything, the last three months have affirmed that I have the resilience to channel my “inner Moses.”
8. Let’s start here… a moment in the Torah when G-d commands Moses to speak to the sons of Aaron and asks them to bless the Jewish people. Throughout the entire year, rabbis are blessing congregants. Perhaps this is the deeper message of my personal prayer that I’ve been silently reciting all these weeks. Standing opposite the rabbi at the far end of the room in a stuffy mask, I’m facing my innermost soul. Like the first fruit of the season, it’s ripe and ready to receive. The time has come to evaluate expectations and values.
9. Let’s start here… as you stand up for the final prayers of the Jewish liturgy. You pray for good dreams and thoughts to lift your hopes, emotional and spiritual welfare. You ask G-d to strengthen your dreams. You ask for the knowledge to chase after the dreams that can make a difference in the world. You ask for healing to help shift your perspective if it is distorted. To find the right path.
10. Let’s start here… with the last personal prayer of the Shabbat when you pray for unity, harmony, understanding, and empathy that the world needs so much of right now. And let us all say, “Amen.”
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