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How Have You Changed During Covid-19?
Read how your friends at TCS are doing during the pandemic
Remember when your mother told you that if you had your health you had the world. Well, she was right, and with Covid-19 a persistent, ominous threat, it is all too clear that everything else takes second place. In fact, in 2021, health has become out top priority. Instead of our kids’ soccer games or family vacations, we now focus on the effectiveness of our masks, where we can get accurate test results, and when it will be our turn to get the vaccine. On any given day, it’s what we think and talk about most.
Although the calendar year has changed and vaccines are being rolled out, we still have to manage our expectations and temper our optimism about the future. We will get our lives back, but it will take longer than we would like. In the meanwhile, our challenge is to nurture satisfaction and joy within ourselves, our families, and our circle of friends.
The “How Have You Changed During Covid-19?” blog was started to create a mechanism to help you do that within the TCS community. It enables you to connect with friends at TCS during this difficult time. While the blog won’t bring back normal Shabbat services or social events, it will enable you to hear each other’s voices and share experiences as we relate how we are coping with life redefined. The blog will give you a place to talk about the challenges you face, including your struggles and growth. It will also alert you to Covid-19 community programs. And most of all, it will remind you that while the synagogue building is temporarily closed to us, we are still here for each other.
The blog is about staying in touch and strengthening bonds with your posts being at the center of the effort. Read what your fellow congregants have already written and you will see what I mean.
On behalf of everyone at TCS, we look forward to hearing from you. Please email your posts to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email me directly at email@example.com with questions or comments.
Judy Block, Editor
Blog update – January 11, 2021
One year ago, I had just started planning my son Zachary’s Bar Mitzvah when I panicked. The proposed renovations to the sanctuary and social hall could disrupt my plans for a
sit-down kiddush for family and friends after the ceremony. I worried about the condition of the building, the construction timeline, the parking situation, and having to find another venue for the luncheon.
I couldn’t have imagined that those concerns would be irrelevant in January 2021. In the last twelve months, there’s been a lot more to worry about than if the social hall would be under construction.
Zachary started his preparations with Cantor Cattan the second week of March – his very first session was quickly changed from in-person to virtual. As the months dragged on, my husband, Mike, and I realized that even the relatively low-key kiddush lunch would likely be impossible. Over the summer, we hoped that we could have our parents, siblings, and cousins attend the service at TCS and then come over for lunch at our house to celebrate. Sadly, in the weeks to follow, indoor gatherings of that size were not permitted and are not safe given the current situation.
On January 23, the sanctuary will hold the four of us plus the members of our close family. We feel fortunate that everyone lives in the tri-state area and can easily drive to share in this special day. By having an intimate ceremony free from many of the usual bells and whistles, I’m hoping that we will feel the significance of Zach reaching this milestone just a little more than we would have otherwise.
I consider myself to have a Type-A personality, and I like to make plans way ahead. All of these changes to an event I thought about for years haven’t been easy. I’m sad to not be able to have our extended family and friends with us in person, but I’m trying to focus on the positives (my family in Israel can watch) and keep some perspective with everything else going on in the world.
Part two of Zach’s Bar Mitzvah celebration is meant to be a trip to Israel this April with my parents. I’m still hoping and praying that we will be able to go, but if not, L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim.
Blog update – January 6, 2021
Recognizing the challenges of the difficult times we are all experiencing, Schoke Jewish Family Service will present the 9th Annual Saul Cohen-Schoke JFS Lecture as a series of three online presentations by prominent authors focusing on how to “recover, recharge and rejoice” while adapting to the new normal created by COVID-19
The lecture is a gift, offered at no cost to the community, through the generosity of Mimi Cohen and Saul Cohen, of blessed memory. The series this year is co-sponsored by UJA/JCC Greenwich, Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County and the United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien and in partnership with Jewish Book Council.
On Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 7:30 pm. Jason B. Rosenthal, author of My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me: A Memoir, will inaugurate the series and will speak about his recovery from the pain when his wife passed away from ovarian cancer. He was the subject of an essay published in the New York Times magazine section written by his wife, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, called You May Want to Marry My Husband that went viral and was read by millions worldwide. His response to Amy’s piece, was published in 2018. He will talk about the issues related to processing grief and finding the path to hope and joy amongst the pain. To register, please visit www.ctjfs.org/saul-cohen-jfs-lecture
Tiffany Shlain, Emmy-nominated filmmaker and author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week, will speak about the power of recovery once a week, on Shabbat. She will discuss her “Tech Shabbat” which focuses on regaining your inner calm and connection to people instead of screens. Join Ms. Shlain on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at 7:30 pm. Visit to register www.ctjfs.org/saul-cohen-jfs-lecture
The keynote speaker in the three-part series will be Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy. After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Behavior, Ben Shahar taught two of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history: Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership and taught Happiness Studies at Columbia University. He is an international, best-selling author whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages.
Dr. Ben-Shahar will talk about how to achieve happiness and rejoice in life when the circumstances are challenging. His presentation will leave viewers with a positive attitude. Join Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 at 7:30 pm. Visit www.ctjfs.org/saul-cohen-jfs-lecture to register for the event.
Blog update – December 23, 2020
After nine months of fear, suffering and death, residents of the Jewish Senior Services received their first vaccination against COVID-19 on December 21. Please read this emotional post by JSS President and CEO Andrew Banoff, who lived through the pain of a virus that decimated the elderly but who looks to the future with hope.
This is not one of my regular updates, but rather a series of thoughts to share on an historic day. It has been more than 9 months since we first dealt with the repercussions of COVID-19 in Connecticut. We had to deal with the initial wave of grief in March-April-May, when we had so little to work with. There was virtually no testing available, an ongoing scramble to get PPE, medical treatments were being investigated, and everyone was somewhere between shock and fear. By the late Spring and Summer, things calmed down in terms of cases, we started weekly staff testing, medical treatments became more coherent and studied, PPE supplies stabilized, the massive influx of regulatory guidance from the CDC and DPH settled down, and Phase 2 restrictions allowed us to come back to some aspects of societal life. Unfortunately, the 2nd wave has hit us in November/December, and there are many more cases (although proportionately less deaths and hospitalizations), and we have been able to mitigate the spread thanks to regular and rapid (antigen) testing.
Today, however is a day we will never forget as the COVID-19 vaccine is here at Jewish Senior Services. Nearly all of the 300 people who live on this campus are being vaccinated as I finish this writing. The team from Walgreens is administering the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine with assistance from our devoted JSS staff. I will upload some pictures to Facebook later. It is the beginning of the end of the pandemic. While it will be months before the vaccine reaches most of us, the process has begun to remove COVID-19 from the masses. With the addition of the Moderna vaccine this weekend, more and more doses will be available. We will always remember where we were on December 21, 2020 – when the Residents of Jewish Senior Services were vaccinated!
This weekend I read the book, Let Us Dream, The Path to a Better Future by Pope Francis. It is written as a guide and a mandate for all of us to respond to the pandemic in ways to repair the world. First, I quote his words to give honor to all of the healthcare (and other) heroes who have worked tirelessly over these past 9 months to care for our loved ones, including those who have given their lives in this battle:
“This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months. In lockdown I’ve often prayed for those who sought all means to save the lives of others while giving their own. … So many of the nurses, doctors, and caregivers paid that price of love, as did priests and religious and ordinary people whose vocation is service. We return their love by grieving for them, and honoring them.”
He also acknowledges the impact that this pandemic has had on the elderly, and our unfortunate disregard for the elderly as a society:
“For example, one sad sign of our times is the exclusion and isolation of the elderly. A significant number of all COVID-19 deaths have been in elderly care homes. Those who died were vulnerable not just because of their age but because of the conditions in many of those homes: underfunded, neglected, dependent on a high turnover of poorly paid workers. I often went to such homes in Buenos Aires, where the caregivers do an amazing job in spite of so many obstacles.”
The book addresses so many important issues, including economics, the environment, women’s rights, etc. and provides thought a thought provoking path for each of us to contribute to heal the world. In Judaism, we are taught Tikkun Olam from the beginning in Hebrew School as an important driver in all of our lives. I applaud Pope Francis on this book, and encourage you to read it. He ends with a poem that is worth sharing on this historic day:
When the storm has passed
And the roads are tamed
And we are the survivors
Of a collective shipwreck.
And the roads are tamed
And we are the survivors
Of a collective shipwreck.
With tearful heart
And our destiny blessed
We will feel joy
Simply for being alive.
And we’ll give a hug
To the first stranger
And praise our good luck
That we kept a friend.
And then we’ll remember
All that we lost
And finally learn
Everything we never learned.
And we’ll envy no one
For all of us have suffered
And we’ll not be idle
But more compassionate.
We’ll value more what belongs to all
Than what was earned.
We’ll be more generous
And much more committed.
We’ll understand how fragile
It is to be alive.
We’ll sweat empathy
For those still with us and those who are gone.
We’ll miss the old men
Who asked for a buck in the market
Whose name we never knew
Who was always at your side.
And maybe the poor old man
Was your God in disguise.
But you never asked his name
Because you never had the time.
And all will become a miracle.
And all will become a legacy.
And we’ll respect the life,
The life that we have gained.
When the storm passes
I ask you Lord, in shame
That you return us better
As you once dreamed us.
Alexis Valdes, “Esperanza” (2020) English translation by America Valdes, Nilo Cruz and Alexis Valdes for Let Us Dream
Blog update – December 16, 2020
Today, an intensive care nurse at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens was the first American to receive the Coronavirus vaccine outside of a clinical trial. After nine months of health and economic chaos, we have reason to hope that this is the beginning of the beginning for our families and our country.
My optimism makes me think of my daughter’s August wedding when a capsized canoe led to a water rescue. Moments of wondering if she and her new husband were in danger were followed by relief and even laughter.
I am posting my take on Deborah and Ari’s wedding announcement as we are about to turn the page from 2020 to 2021 to help us all begin to smile again.
Deborah Ann Block Weds Ariel Spungen Bildner
On August 30th, in the Berkshire Hills, under a clear New England sky and a chuppah made of white birch branches and covered by family tallitot, Deborah Ann Block spoke her personal vows to Ariel Spungen Bildner. She included these words of thanks: “I will always be grateful to you for introducing me to something I knew nothing about – the outside.”
Later, after the ceremony, when Deborah’s brother, Daniel, toasted the couple, he urged them to look to each other for support when “they felt at sea” and the ground beneath them was unsteady.
Rarely have more prescient comments been uttered at a wedding, with the outside and the water being key players.
On Yokum Pond, adjacent to the Becket, Massachusetts home of the groom’s parents, Ari’s three siblings surprised the couple by decorating a canoe with a “Just Married” placard. Dressed in their wedding finery and with a supply of wine, cheese and fruit to sustain them, the couple began a romantic, newlywed glide around the 109-acre reservoir. When they had not returned 45 minutes later and with the wind picking up, Ari’s brother, Rafi, jumped into his motor boat to escort them back. When he threw Ari a rope and began pulling the canoe to shore, it capsized, tossing the couple overboard, requiring Rafi to jump in and pull the pair to safety.
Soaked and with their wedding clothes, hair and make-up ruined, Deborah and Ari never stopped smiling, realizing, perhaps, that they now have a story to tell their yet-to-be-born children and grandchildren.
On hearing the news, Deborah’s brother, Daniel, was puzzled. “I didn’t think they would take it literally when I talked about being at sea.”
Deborah is the daughter of Fred and Judy Block of Westport, Connecticut. She is a graduate of Tufts University and a digital content marketer. Ari, the son of Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner of Montclair, New Jersey and Becket Massachusetts, graduated from Yale University and Yale School of Management and is a wine consultant. The couple resides in Northampton, Massachusetts and spend as much time as possible outside in the Berkshires.
Blog update – November 23, 2020
When the lockdown first began last March, it wasn’t hard to keep track of the days.
First, we marked my daughter’s birthday.
Then, her canceled party.
Next, an abrupt and teary goodbye to TCS’s beloved emissary, Ella.
But as the list of missed events and disappointments grew, we retreated into our homes, looking for ways to stay busy as everything went online, closed or got postponed.
And so, in our house, as in many others, the bread maker was dusted off, given a central a place of honor in the kitchen and quickly assumed an outsized role as an electronic source of physical and psychological sustenance.
Hours passed in those initial dark days as we endlessly searched online for elusive and overpriced packets of yeast, with friends and family, near and far, trading sources, prices and availability.
Fresh yeast by the pound.
Active dry yeast in dark bottles.
Rapid rise instant yeast in foil packets.
But beware, unsuspecting shoppers, of falling into the trap of snaring wine yeast (though, who knows, honestly—maybe that would have worked too?).
Once we were fortunate or price gouged enough to have scored an adequate supply and perhaps shared with the deserving few, friends and family near and far next traded recipes.
And yes, even challah.
As the long indoor hours stretched into days, which crawled into weeks and eventually months, trays of cinnamon rolls, loaves of breads and twisty challahs emerged from the oven and quickly disappeared into our comfort-seeking mouths.
Yet, of all these carbohydrate-laden creations, one stood out from the rest.
One type of bread had the power to elevate an endless series of hours, days and weeks into something special.
One type of bread cried for an accompaniment of candles, wines and blessings.
One type of bread demanded attention, reflection and a few moments of calm to separate the monotony of never-ending quarantine into a joyous occasion to be marked by all.
Because, if challah was being served, today must be Friday.
And Shabbat must be here.
And another week must have ended.
A pretty powerful message to receive from a loaf of bread.
So, therefore, you may ask—what changed during Covid?
Certainly, my challah making skills improved. Thanks to Rikki Wiederhorn’s recipe, tried and true among a number of other contenders, I can now reliably produce two beautiful, sweet, fluffy loaves every week.
But, truly, I have learned so much more than just that.
Challah has changed me. And my family.
For I now appreciate how challah helps to define the week. Whether it’s to provide a break from the tedium or the chaos, depending on which kind of week it was, challah means family, a respite from electronics, school and other distractions.
My family has changed too. They realize that having challah on our Friday night table means something sacred. Something traditional and defining and worth doing.
So that is one silver lining from Covid. And if you need any tips on making your own challah, give me a call!
Blog update – November 9, 2020
With the breaking news from Pfizer that an early analysis of its coronavirus vaccine trial showed the vaccine to be more than 90 percent effective in preventing the disease, we all want to know as much as we can about this possible breakthrough. Gina Kolata, an award winning New York Times science writer, will help us understand the current state of COVID vaccine development in a virtual forum on Thursday, November 12 at the Quick Center. See the flyer for all the details.
See you there.
Blog Update 10/27/2020
Hey Jude.. Take a sad song and make it better.
Barbara and I just returned from our first Covid Bris for our newest grandchild,
Jude Dylan .. Yehuda Doron.
It was certainly different then any other Bris. It was limited to our Machatunim, son and daughter-in-law and their two young children (our grandkids).
We were all in face masks (grandkids too) as we gathered around to watch as the Grandmas proudly held Jude. Then their hand off to the Grandpas who shared Samdek duties awaiting the Mohel’s chanting and performance of the circumcision.
We all missed having the rest of our extended families with us. Not even siblings were allowed.
It was as meaningful as any other Bris that I participated in or attended.
In spite of Covid, the mitzvah of circumcision was fulfilled.
Jude took a sad song and made it better… for all of us.
Blog Update 10/20/2020
Silence versus speaking up
What were the doctors thinking?
It’s taken me a bit of time to calm down about this, but I’m finally ready to talk about what’s been bothering me since September 29th, the date of the first presidential debate. Like Dick Kalt’s blog post about fixing the debate structure, mine skirts around the edges of politics but doesn’t land on it. In fact, while the setting is political, the problem I have is a decidedly moral one – what we owe each other in the presence of political power. Should we remain silent or have the nerve to speak up?
Let me set the scene. The presidential debate took place on the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University, which it shares with the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Both institutions hosted the debate. As the Health Security Advisor to the Commission on Presidential debates, the Cleveland Clinic put in place a range of strategies to protect the candidates, moderator, and audience from contracting Covid-19. Wearing masks was at the top of the list.
Unfortunately, and as every viewer noticed, the entire Trump family acted as if the rules didn’t apply to them. While they wore masks when entering the auditorium, they removed them after taking their front-row seats.
What happened next is troubling. A readily identifiable Cleveland Clinic doctor (she was wearing a lab coat) approached the family, asked that they put on their masks, and offered replacements if they needed them. As she got closer to the group, they shook their heads – a nonverbal cue the doctor understood to mean ‘back off.” As a result, Melania, Ivanka, Tiffany, Eric and Donald Jr. sat mask-less throughout the debate.
I am not throwing stones at the unfortunate doctor who tried to get the family to do what they agreed to do before the event started. She was the low person in the pecking order and relatively powerless. Rather, I can’t understand why the Clinic’s top doctors who were in the auditorium didn’t back her up. Every doctor takes an oath when he or she graduates to “first, do no harm,” yet these senior doctors ignored their obligation to everyone in the room. They yielded to political power and connections as they failed their public health obligation.
What should they have done? It’s simple in retrospect – ask nicely again and then escort those without masks from the auditorium. If they refused to budge, they should have exercised their power as custodians of health to call off the debate. Ironically, they had nothing to lose since their own status as chief medical officers of a world-renown institution made them untouchable.
This failure is not dissimilar to what happened when Vice President Mike Pence visited patients at the Mayo Clinic in April. Masks were required, but Pence was the only person among ten without one, including a bed-ridden patient. Not one of the doctors in the group called him on it to protect patients and staff.
My question, once again, is what were the doctors thinking? With the country at the height of the pandemic, did they let slide their obligation to patients and staff simply because they were in the presence of the Vice President of the United States? If the answer is yes, they came up short as human beings and doctors.
The Mishna tells us that “whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world.” It is the standard to which we must hold ourselves in the Age of Covid-19, even as the powerful breathe down our necks. Come to think of it, maybe the medical community needs to spend an hour or so rereading the Hippocratic Oath.
Blog update 10/15/20
The Covid-19 pandemic affects adults and children in different ways, and our job as parents – and grandparents – is to help our kids manage their feelings in an unsettling, dangerous world.
Recognizing this, Schoke Jewish Family Services of Fairfield Country is inviting you to a discussion with child psychologist Abigail Gewirtz who will talk about her book When the World Feels Like a Scare Place: Essential Conversations for Anxious Parents and Worried Kids. It will take place, via zoom, on Monday, October 26 at 8 PM and is free of charge. See the flyer below for registration details.
It sounds extremely worthwhile.
Blog Update 10/6/2020
I WANT MY 90 MINUTES BACK!
When I sat down to write this blog on September 30th, I had planned to offer my feelings and thoughts about life in the Covid era, having my daughter return home, quarantining, testing and all the bad news we deal in this horrible pandemic. Then my mind got hijacked by a Horror Show masquerading as a presidential debate. I am not going to make a political statement now, but I was so looking forward to the debate in the hope that I would learn important information and feel reassured about the candidate I choose to vote for in November.
The Covid situation is beyond serious, it’s catastrophic and I really hoped to learn about a well-thought out, scientifically sound plan that would give me more hope for a return to normal life. Life as we know it is the “new” life now but we all want to return to our ability to socialize, pray together, travel and generally enjoy everything that life has to offer. Well the joke is on me as my hopes were dashed quickly as schoolyard antics took center stage.
What a waste of 90 minutes of my time. I know most of you probably feel the same way. It told me absolutely nothing about how and when we are going to better manage the pandemic or see a solution that brings back the joy of life. I really hoped for something more that would help us all hang on. Yeah…sure. Nothing but schoolyard antics and more frustration, but I want to change that before we have another bad comedy foisted upon us. I have had enough of not having enough. Are you with me???
With President Trump sick with the coronavirus and out of commission for who knows how long, we can only guess if there will be another presidential debate this election cycle. But whether there is or not, we can’t accept the kind of debacle we saw on September 29th. Not this year, not in 2024, not ever.
No more complaining, solutions are the only currency we can accept now. I would like to offer one for your consideration. I promise not to waste the 5 minutes of your time it takes you to read this.
Here is the way the next debate MUST be handled, as I apply something we all know from the sports world:
Get a moderator who has absolute control. I like Chris Wallace and he did try, but he had to know he was going to be ambushed and he could not get control of the situation. With the following format, dependence on a strong moderator is lessened but still important.
Each candidate comes out for 30 seconds, is introduced and says “Good evening, and thank you for joining us” and not one syllable more….word for word. If they speak out of turn, they lose the following coin toss.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is introduced, and the president is given the option to choose heads or tails for the ceremonial coin toss.
The winner of the coin toss chooses whether to speak first or second during the opening round
The first speaker stays on stage and the opponent goes backstage and is in no way involved for the next 10 minutes
The speaker has the stage to himself and is able to speak, uninterrupted, say anything he wants, offer solutions, plans, commentary, insults, whatever, uninterrupted. Ten minutes, all face time, that’s it.
The first speaker then goes back stage and his opponent comes out and does the same thing for his 10 minutes.
Each speaker has the stage and American voters to himself, no crowds, no questions, no interruptions. Guess what folks, we might learn something….or be disappointed, but we get 20 minutes of actual value.
Then we take a 60 second break for the moderator to explain the rules of the rest of the evening.
After the break speaker #2 comes out and has 5 minutes to rebut or offer anything else he wants to say to the American people, uninterrupted, and is then followed by speaker #1 to offer his perspective after some time to think about what he heard earlier. Each speaker has a chance to lead and then follow so that all subject matter and opinion are covered.
After these two segments, totaling 30 minutes are complete, the moderator brings both candidates out to a town hall or debate, or mud wrestling, I don’t care. I really don’t care by then because I heard content in the first 30 minutes of the evening. I can turn off my Smart TV, which is dumber because of what it had seen in the debate before this event; and know more than I did before I started watching that evening.
In the end, I want to make an informed decision and all I ask of the candidates and the media is to INFORM me – especially now when all Americans are desperate for grown-up leadership that will help us cope during the pandemic. This is what needs to be done. It’s a simple and very doable solution that offers content, entertainment and likely embarrassment at the end. Oh yes, I won’t be there at the end because I have to reorganize my sock drawer or throw a ball to my dog, which will be far more fulfilling.
Please accept my best wishes for the New Year and fervent hope for a better outcome than we had last on the evening of September 29.
Blog Update 10/1/2020
Out of this terrible time for so many have come some interesting and meaningful lessons. Small ones, but significant nonetheless.
As I can already see from our synagogue blog and wonderful contributions from Karen Ugol and Judy Block, my husband and I join a substantial group of parents of pandemic brides and grooms who have seen their children’s wedding plans and dreams evaporate, and watched as new realities have been confronted and resolved in ways no one ever imagined.
A year ago this time, we were excitedly making a thousand wedding decisions with our newly-engaged daughter Dana and her fiance, Daniel Rose (yes, son of fellow TCS members Bob and Yvette Rose, with whom we had been longtime friends!).
As we busily signed contracts with a wedding venue, band, photographer, videographer, florist, hair and makeup stylists, as we quickly got on the rabbi’s calendar, lined up a hotel block for out-of-town guests, shopped for a wedding dress, selected bridesmaid dresses and groomsmen’s attire, and picked out wedding invitations, we could hardly have imagined the planned 200-guest wedding would–poof!–become just immediate family members in our backyard.
Life does have a way of surprising us and challenging us. We had worried about rain on the wedding day outdoors, or wind strong enough to blow a chuppah down, but NEVER a pandemic. In mid-March, as the world went into lockdown, quarantine and mask-and-glove mode, expectations began to change, to evolve, to dissolve. It was a process to be sure, but everybody “got there.”
What we as parents learned, along with our bride and groom, was that less truly is more. At noon on a gorgeous sunny Sunday in June–the originally-planned date– the wedding took place in the form of a civil ceremony. It was a hastily-planned affair, with 10 people social distancing in our backyard. It could not have been more wonderful or more fun!
There was zero stress. No worrying about bridesmaids, groomsmen, makeup artists, hair stylists and everyone being at their appointment places at the appointed times for photographs. No fretting about the band, the florist, the cocktail hour, the table assignments, place cards, the wait staff, bartenders, valet parking guys. There was no hand-wringing about plane travel for the soon-to-be in-laws, only light-hearted jokes about any traffic that might delay our “local machatunim” a minute or two on their route between Merritt Parkway exits 42 and 41.
Even with a new date now set for a possible big shindig, including the religious ceremony, in May 2021, even with a wedding dress still awaiting the bride at Kleinfeld’s, bridal party attire already purchased, even with now-outdated wedding invitations in their calligraphy-addressed envelopes gathering dust in boxes in the bride’s childhood bedroom, it is hard to imagine what the bride and groom will decide to do next spring, with more unpredictability as the pandemic plays out in the months ahead.
As the happy couple noted gleefully last week, they have just celebrated their three-month anniversary. With each passing day, their dream of the big wedding with all the trimmings seems more-and-more in the rearview mirror. How many people will the state allow in attendance at a celebration next spring? With or without a vaccine, who would be willing to come and be in a crowd? How many relatives would travel by plane to join us?
Right now, there is only one thing about which everyone involved is sure: the pandemic marriage is off to a fantastic start. Mission accomplished, Coronavirus or no. And, perhaps, that is all that really matters.
Linda Meyer Russ
Blog Update 9/24/2020
“I appreciate the small stuff even more now.”
What do you miss most about the pre-Covid days?
I miss easily being able to see people and not think about the weather in case we can’t be outside. I miss not being able to go out the front door without having to worry if we have masks or extras in the glove box. I miss getting to hug my parents without worrying I might pass Covid onto them. I feel for my kids who will miss a year of all they should be experiencing in college. I miss dining inside a restaurant. I miss concerts, shows, movie theaters, large life celebrations.
Do you think of your life in two stages – before the beginning of March and after?
I would actually say there have been three stages – pre March, 100% lockdown from March to June and then a slow reemergence to the new normal from June to now.
Looking back now, that initial phase seems a lifetime ago and a world apart. So many decisions were made based on no information and our best guess. I was set to travel to London for work the first week in March and I hemmed and hawed about going and thankfully late Saturday night before my Sunday night flight, I decided to put the trip off. Knowing what I know now, I can’t imagine making that trip. My parents who were living with me at the time while my dad was undergoing medical treatments, went to their house in Massachusetts for a few days break between treatments and thank goodness they did, as the next week both my kids came home from college and we all became shut inside our homes. The first two weeks my kids were home, we made them stay six feet apart from us, not touch anything outside their rooms and bathrooms, and wiped every surface multiple times a day to ensure we were safe. Once classes finished, we did what everyone did, baked bread, played games, binge watched TV, did puzzles and tried not to drive each other crazy. The magic of being together and going through this unprecedented time wore off once classes ended in May and we settled into this new reality.
This new normal feels a bit betwixt and between. In many ways, I feel like we get to do a lot, certainly much more than when in full lockdown; dine outside at restaurants, see friends in small groups, go to stores to pick things up, play golf and tennis, go for hikes. But in many ways it is still not normal, how long will we wear masks in public, will my kids get to study and live abroad, will my sister be able to visit from LA, will my parents get to go to Florida next winter, when will we be comfortable riding public transportation, working in an office and so much more?
How have major life events been affected by Covid-19?
So many major life events were impacted and overall I think our family members handled them very well. Everyone understood the importance and significance of what was happening. With that said, it didn’t make missing them any easier.
My daughter missed spring break to Mexico, Birthright to Israel and study abroad to New Zealand. My son’s summer internship didn’t come through and he had to quickly pivot to finding something new.
My sister and her family were scheduled to come for a visit over July 4th and two days before their flight, Los Angeles went on the travel advisory list and they were not able to come for their annual summer visit.
With my dad undergoing medical treatment, my mom had to shoulder much of this alone to minimize the risk of exposure to Covid, which was challenging for all of us.
My job was impacted by Covid, so I have some fear about what’s next, how long it might be until I find something I like and how will I start a job remotely.
We all adapted, though, and Zoom birthday celebrations, family text chats, distanced dinners at the beach have now become normal.
Are you a different person now than you were a few months ago? How has this major change affected your values and priorities?
People have asked me what I learned about myself during this time. I am a very social person so I was quite concerned about being shut in my house. What I have learned is that while I still crave social interactions, I was able to find peace at home, being alone or only being with my immediate family. I was able to reconnect with some friends I had lost touch with. Most of all, I appreciate the small stuff even more now. Watching the birds out my window, daily walks to get fresh air, and all the things I took for granted before.
Blog Update 9-10-2020
It is a pleasure to participate in our new TCS Blog which is focusing on how we are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. But before I share with you a personal story about one way that we were impacted, I want to thank Judy Block for making this happen.
Judy conceived of the idea, submitted a formal proposal to TCS, offered to become the Blog’s editor and submitted the initial rendering. She explained why it is important, how she thinks it will help congregants and enable all of us to learn from each other. And she even gave us a series of questions to help anyone who wants to participate to write a piece.
When volunteers step up, like Judy has done with her blog, it demonstrates how we can continue to grow as a community. Our sincere thanks to her for making this happen.
Covid-19 has impacted all of us in so many ways
We are encountering new experiences every single day. The list of disappointments, and in too many cases, the tragedies is very long. Yet in a surprising number of ways, the pandemic has caused positive experiences as well.
Many of us had opportunities to spend unexpected time with our grown children. Many relationships have grown as a result of spending more time together. We are reading more. We have tackled projects that we put off for years. We gave away stuff to Goodwill. We threw things away that had no value. We updated our files. We caught up with photographs. We reached out to people with whom we lost touch and we even enhanced our technical acumen.
One of the best things to emerge from the pandemic was the establishment of our daily Minyan. Since mid-March, 10-18 of our members get together remotely to conduct our morning prayers. At this moment we have yet to miss a day—even during the power failure.
For our family, the death of Lois’ mom, Dorothy, and the Zoom Shiva that followed will forever be linked with the pandemic.
Dorothy did not have the virus. Just having celebrated her 97th birthday, her heart finally gave out.
But not unlike the daily reports of others who passed away in nursing homes, we hadn’t been able to visit with her (except virtually) during the last ten weeks of her life. We couldn’t be there to hold her hand during the last 10 minutes of her life. But fortunately, she was not alone.
She was with the dedicated people who had been caring for her at The Watermark. They had, in fact, become family for her. They would have been at her funeral if there had been one.
Respecting the COVID restrictions at the same cemetery I have visited more times than I can count, we were a small group that day in May. Rabbi Wiederhorn held us up and held us together (spiritually, of course) at the graveside service. There was Andrea and Jon, our daughter and son-in-law who live locally, plus Lois and me. Our daughter, Deborah and her family, joined us from Colorado, courtesy of FaceTime. Dorothy was the matriarch of a large extended family. Her circle, as she referred to the people in her life, spread far and wide. In normal times, scores of her relatives, friends and acquaintances would have attended her funeral. So the pandemic made a sad passage even sadder.
Yet on the other hand, there were unusual bright spots that can be attributed to the need to isolate. We had a remarkable Zoom Shiva. Of course, we missed the personal contact, the hugs and kisses and warmth of people connecting. But dozens and dozens of people attended from all the aspects of our lives. People who live far away and never could have attended, were there. People had the opportunity to meet members of our family they had never met before. Our friends and family were able to meet our TCS family and vice-versa. And when our daughter, Deborah, played an audio recording of Dorothy’s voice, answering questions about our family, everyone who attended had the chance to learn a little about who Dorothy was.
But the sweetest memory of the Shiva was listening to people tell stories. Usually at a Shiva the bereaved get to hear stories one-on-one in small groups. Everyone else is schmoozing, or enjoying the buffet. This was different.
In a Zoom call (ideally) one person speaks at a time. So when Dotty’s nieces, nephews, grandchildren and even great grandchildren had something to say everybody benefited from hearing the story. When my twin brother, Richard, talked about how much my grandson, Logan, looked like me when I was his age, everybody heard that. When Dotty’s nephew, Dexter, who was orphaned when he was a teenager, shared how she became his surrogate mother, everyone felt his love. When Dotty’s niece, Estelle, from Israel talked about how she was her role model, everybody was moved. Each story, each anecdote, each memory and each kind word was heard by everyone.
So yes, Dotty’s passing in many was void of many of the components that traditionally help me with closure. But this Shiva, (I often say it is the oldest support group in the history of the world), provided unique opportunities for everyone who joined to learn more about what an incredible woman Dorothy Rotkoff was.
As I reflect on The Pandemic of 2020, and like everyone else, think about both how lucky we are not to be on food lines nor worrying about losing our home, I still realize the disappointments we’ve endured. I will always remember that one of the bright spots was how we were able to honor Dorothy’s memory with so many of the people in our life. Our Zoom Shiva was one of the more unexpectedly meaningful moments I associate with The Pandemic of 2020.
What do you wish you knew in March, when COVID began, that you know now?
What I would give to have known that the last time I hugged by precious granddaughter back in February, that I would have no idea when it would be safe to do so again! If I had known that back in October 2019 when I hugged my daughter goodbye after we had spent one of the best days of my life choosing her wedding gown, (she was supposed to get married in a few days 9/6/2020) and headed back to Haifa, that I would have no idea when it would be safe for her to travel home. I have never been apart from her for this long , with no plan as to when she can safely travel home. And her wedding has been postponed until July 2021. What I would give to not worry about my daughter-in-law who is expecting my second granddaughter in December. May her pregnancy and birth be easy and not implicated by Covid.
What I would give to have known that my 39 year career as an obstetrical nurse would take this turn. That instead of focusing on helping my patients have a safe and beautiful birth, I am donned in so much protective gear, that all I have to show my patients is my eyes and my comforting words.
There are days when I feel depressed and feel as if this will never get better. And then I remember how grateful I am that we remain healthy. And where there is health, there is hope.
Inaugural Blog Post
I have asked myself these questions many times over the past few months. Here are some of my answers:
How have major life events been affected by Covid-19? Tell us what you experienced, how different family members reacted and how you resolved disagreements.
With my daughter getting married on August 30th, this is a big one for me. It took Deborah much longer than Fred and me to realize that the wedding she and Ari planned was not going to happen. In March and April, she called us doomsayers when we told her that there was no way 140 people were gathering together. I soon realized that arguing wouldn’t change her mind, so I backed off and hoped that she would come around in time to make different plans. By mid-May she and Ari started planning a family-only wedding, but it was a tough few months. I now understand that Deborah had to let go of her dreams before she could move on.
Just at about the time Governor Lamont issued his lockdown orders in mid-March, I learned about a second family blessing – my son and daughter-in-law were expecting their third son. Normally, this would be uncomplicated, joyful news, but with Covid-19 raging and Eve a doctor at Norwalk Hospital, I worry everyday that she will pick up the virus. She’s strong and careful, I tell myself. Does this make it any easier? Of course not. I’ll breathe again when the baby is born in mid-September and he and his mother are well. In the meanwhile, I am in awe of Eve’s dedication to her patients and determination to press on despite Covid and morning sickness.
Do you think of your life in two stages – before the beginning of March and after? Explain how the shift has affected you.
The last time I was in Manhattan was early March. The last time I was in a store (Costco) was early March. The last time I hugged my grandsons was early March. The last time I invited family and friends inside my home was early March. The last time I was in synagogue was early March. Need I go on? At times, I’ve been overwhelmed by the suddenness and severity of the change. No warnings, no “Hey people, please prepare for life as you’ve never known it because your health depends on it.”
I’ve coped by talking more on the phone and on zoom, reading more, cooking more, exercising more. But still, there are days when I wake up and aren’t sure if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. And there are days when I’m depressed and pick an argument with my husband (who always forgives me).
Do you, your spouse and children always agree on how to be safe?
Fred is a doctor and he has always made all the family health decisions. In general, he’s conservative medically and even more so with Covid-19. We still use grocery delivery services, wipe down all package surfaces, let the mail sit for a few days before opening it, and avoid stores and restaurants, even those with outside tables. As Connecticut cases drop, I’ve found it hard to keep within the limits he’s set. Even when I promise to wear a mask and gloves and stay far away from all others, he doesn’t yield. But my choice has always been easy. I will operate by Fred’s rules and try to nudge him along around the edges. He finally agreed to have friends come over and sit on our front terrace. And a small victory happened a few weeks ago; we had our first take-out meal and it was absolutely delicious.
Social distancing family-style on our patio – Deborah in foreground then Ari. Fred and I are at a very distant table.
What do you miss most about not being able to go to services or participate in synagogue events?
I miss seeing my friends Howard Matson, Judy and Mitch Greenberg, Tibi, Martha and Martin Rosenfeld, Debbie and Ed Smolka, and many others. I miss hearing the cantor chant the prayers, I miss the rabbi’s sermon. And I miss the Kiddush, a time to share a meal with old and new friends. I also miss changing out of my summer shorts and t-shirt into a skirt and blouse that gets me ready for the Sabbath. Time seems to run together these days without Shabbat services to look forward to and that tiny cup of ceremonial grape juice. The High Holidays will soon be here and I will feel deep loss and sadness if I am not in the sanctuary to hear the prayers.
After months of this, what do you wish you knew in March that you know now?
That this will be a marathon, not a sprint; that some days will be better than others; that I am happy being alone with my thoughts, reading, cooking and writing; that I absolutely, positively must have some space from my husband or I’ll blow a gasket; that I need to Zoom special friends to discuss politics, the virus and family and to hear their voices and see their faces; that I miss going to the supermarket.
Now that you’ve heard my voice, we at TCS would love to hear yours. Please contribute to this new synagogue connective thread and tell other members about it. It’s about hearing and helping each other. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to add your voice!