Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!

Friday, 23 September, 2022 - 4:05 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I just noticed a half-full bag of KN95 protective masks at the edge of my desk.

They are taking up space.

I ask myself, ‘do I still need to keep them handy… just in case… or can I give them away to people in the medical field’?

What would you do?

For starters my dear friend, let us celebrate the question.

It was not so long ago that the hottest item you could trade, was masks and gloves.

For the last two Rosh Hashana’s we have been masked and limited in our traditional holiday observances.

Some geographical locales didn’t have any Rosh Hashana services, some had socially distanced ones. Mostly everywhere there was a mask mandate.

Thank G-d, this year we are able to have full Rosh Hashana services. Minyanim and communal meals. Even if you are still cautious about very large crowds, and the first night of Rosh Hashana is usually a large crowd, joining a minyan of people for Tefilah Betzibur (communal prayer) on Monday or Tuesday day services, is definitely appropriate. It will also enable you to hear the Shofar and thus fulfil the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

While I am not sure if to give away the masks or not - they may come in useful against the pollution - what I don’t want to give away, is the gifts that I received during Covid.’

What gifts?

I have a bit of a list.

Let me start with the gift of appreciating community togetherness.

For the last two Rosh Hashana’s I had the painful task of looking at the list of would-be attendees and trying to balance how many people we could accommodate. How many small groups to split and divide into.

During those trying times, when I heard that someone of advanced age was throwing ‘caution to the winds’ and planning to attend a communal event, I felt concern and even a sense of panic as to how I could convince them to be more prudent.

It was the most confusing moments of my thirty years of communal leadership.

For decades I had constantly urged people to come and participate. All of a sudden, I was telling people to practice restraint and not attend.

I was blessed to be schooled in the Chabad model of community-building, focusing on non-judgmental, open-door policy. A synagogue experience should be uplifting and inviting. It should contain the components of hearty handshakes, friendly hugs, communal dining, toasting lechayims and of course spirited dancing.

These were all things that were curtailed and forbidden during the height of the pandemic.

Covid brought with it an enforced isolation. Loneliness and fear of catching infection caused us to withdraw into our own private cocoons of perceived safety.

But that, is thank G-d over.

Even on airplanes, most airlines have dropped the mask mandate.

Many people are of the opinion that the masks can be discarded.

But I don’t want to divest myself of some of the other gifts that Covid brought.

I now have a deepened appreciation of being able to congregate with people.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Feelings of exhilaration still grip me when I sit and ‘farbreng’ with my community. Rubbing shoulders, clinking glasses, shaking hands and signing spiritedly with the inevitable mixing of microbes is really exciting after lockdown.

I don’t want to lose that excitement that communal togetherness now brings me.

The next thing on my list is ‘humility’.

Someone told me that just before Covid, his college educated son told him ‘Dad, there is almost nothing left that science hasn’t conquered’.

Well, a few weeks later, he was reminded of just how intricate G-d’s world is. And how humbled we all became when we grasped how our most sophisticated scientific achievements are infinitesimal before G-d’s might and majesty.

There is a vulnerability and humility that I have noticed in people’s demeanor and behavior.

Gone is the look of arrogant pompousness from so many faces.

How comforting it is to bask in the softness that now radiates from people’s faces.

Sensitivity is definitely on my list as well.

The time people now invest in listening to others. The sensitivity that people have for each other and the attention they now place on engaging in meaningful dialogue. The slowing down ‘to smell the roses’ that has coaxed people out of religiously going to their offices. The conscious choice that so many have made to spend quality time with their loved ones.

The sensitivity that people have developed in tending to the needs of the less fortunate.

I can personally attest to the fact that people have become more open to giving tzedakah to help righteous and compassionate causes.

(Please G-d the morning after Rosh Hashana we will be launching our annual JewishThailand giving days. Details to follow).

Those are some of the things I wouldn’t want to throw out.

However, Covid also exacted a heavy price on the world. A much too painful payment was made by humanity.

For no money in the world would any of us have agreed to willingly consent to such an unspeakable epoch.

People’s lives were tragically cut short by the pandemic. The medical suffering that people went through was acutely painful. Even now, after the pandemic has subsided, ‘Long Covid’ still has people dealing with aftereffects of the virus.

Kids had to contend with ‘virtual learning’ which is really challenging to say the least.

People lost their businesses, their jobs, their financial stability.

A sense of social restlessness fueled many demonstrations and created a lawlessness in many urban settings.

The above is just a sampling of the terrible upheaval that the pandemic brought in its wake.

I pray, that this year of 5783 bring with it the best of both worlds.

The gifts of good health, sustenance and peace.

The gifts of societal collaboration and acts of lovingkindness one to each other.

The gifts of authenticity and humility.

And a continued appreciation of the inherent value of community which will lead to enhanced attendance and Synagogues and ‘simchas’ - lifecycle celebrations.

Another thing that many Jewish people learned, is what it the central mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

Hearing the sound of the Shofar.

This is THE mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

While we were not able to host a large community dinner during the pandemic, we were able to fulfill the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana. For even during Covid, we were able to fully observe the Mitzvah of Shofar by blowing Shofar outdoors.

Here in Bangkok, we blew Shofar at the lake in Benjasiri Park (behind Marriot Marquis hotel) and we will do so as well this year on Monday September 26thIn other places there was a schedule drawn up in advance detailing at which street corner one could hear Shofar at designated times.

As we stand on the threshold of a new HEALTHY year, it seems like the appropriate time to take a moment to consider what good things you can take with you from the past two pandemic-influenced years, into the coming healthy year.

Make a good resolution for this coming year. Add a mitzvah. Change yourself and change the world around you, good deed by good deed.

And if you really want to be nice, please drop me a note with your insight and resolution. I would love to hear from you.

May I take this opportunity on behalf of Nechama and myself, to wish you and your loved ones a SHANA TOVA – GOOD and SWEET YEAR.

May this be the year in which Mashiach comes and peace reigns supreme, AMEN

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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