We ended our seders this year as we have in years past: “Next year in Jerusalem.” This does not mean explicitly that we yearn to spend the holiday next year physically in Israel. This means that we personally yearn to be different next year – to be changed and for the world to be changed. We hope and pray for peace – and health, and happiness, and harmony. To use our tradition’s phrasing: we long for yeshulayim shel mala to descend to yerushalayim shel mata – that is, we pray for a heavenly spiritual Jerusalem to descend to this world.
One thing is for certain: next year will not be like this year, just as this year is not like last year. The plight of COVID-19 has forged a shared experience that has cut many of us off from our communities – and so we’ve either built new ones or forged new paths to connect with our old ones, or, really, a hybrid of the two. And our Passover observance, as one example, is different. But Passover is just a microcosm for all the changes that will be taking place over the coming year.
COVID-19 has compelled us to keep engaging and to keep reaching farther. Following this pandemic, we will have learned about the good we can do and bring to others. And we will realize that we cannot stop doing it – that there are less costly, less involved, less time-consuming ways of meeting people where they are. In the coming year, we will need to be flexible and continue to evolve not only to remain relevant but to subsist – to forge community.
I foresee the following:
- Synagogues will return to offering their daily minyanim in person, perhaps with streaming options. But they will also retain their “Zoom minyanim,” offered at parallel or different times. Some will fear that “in-person” minyanim attendance may decrease as a result, but they will not. Greater numbers will be engaged, and institutional and geographic borders will fade away. Synagogues will evolve into community institutions that serve a broader scope instead of focusing on a geographic or roster roll “membership.” How that is to be financially supported will be the next chapter of this evolution.
- Further, synagogues will begin to invest resources in order to “keep up.” Whether that is regularly “checking in” with their sphere of influence, or simply putting out unending, engaging virtual content. New vocations and professions will grow out of this – virtual pastors and chaplains; virtual hospital pastoral rotations, virtual lifecycle officiants, and more.
- These synagogues (and Jewish organizations) will be faced with difficult financial decisions. They will contract in order that they might grow. Positions will be eliminated, but new positions will also be created. The deployment of resources – much like in the secular world – will be reevaluated to consider (and answer the question) whether the institutions the previous generation built meet the needs of the next generation.
- Community-facing organizations (like the Jewish Federations) will be focused less on engaging people with their own organization and more on connecting people with synagogues, knowing that the synagogues have been the heart of engagement during the crisis. This will help answer the question: How will institutions fund outreach to the unaffiliated in this new era?
- Greater numbers will value in-person interactivity on Shabbat, but also families and friends long distance will begin engaging with each other on Shabbat, and other times during the week.
- Programming, meetings, schooling, study groups, counseling – though not every iteration of these – will seamlessly continue in a virtual format.
- We will begin to value seeing each other, even in two dimensions on a screen, over hiding behind a post or a text or an email. We will begin to see more time on our calendars with friends and family “get-togethers” than meetings and work responsibilities.
- Though we should continue to revere and support military and first-responders, communities will begin to hallow additional frontline essential community service workers – hospital and medical staff, public safety employees, city officials, grocery workers.
- Greater communal support will focus on increased wages for teachers, recognizing them as the warriors they are. Parents will begin to see schools as surrogates as opposed to babysitters. Institutions and communities will invest deeper funds recognizing the education of our children (and those who educate them) as a utility. Still, families will also come to deeply value – and miss – the time they had together. They will realize that we have overschooled and overworked our children.
- But we will also begin to value “sabbath” that much more as holy time off. We can’t possibly have our face “in a screen” at all times. We can’t consistently be cooped up inside. We need a break to nourish our souls.
- We will begin to value both qualitative and quantitative engagement – are we really reaching everyone we can, especially those who are “alone”? Are we going and meeting them where they are, or, are we still forcing them to find us, and cross our threshold? The synagogue will drastically change. The workplace will drastically change. We may believe that we’re embarking on a period of contraction when in fact this will be a period of expansion. But it will be an expansion that allows us to spend our time intentionally, with a work-spirituality-health/wellness-life balance.
- And every facet of society will realize how great a weight we must place on community.
Just as we saw with the Israelites in Egypt, sometimes it takes a plague to realize what really matters. And chief on that list of realizations is that nothing is static – and by the time we realize it, the world has already changed.
And that is the core message of Passover. When we say “next year in Jerusalem,” it is our hope and our prayer that we are actively engaged in rebuilding that spiritual and communal Jerusalem – that we are actively working to bring people together and to mend the cracks.
Ten years from now, those institutions and organizations who think that we will be just returning to “business as usual” will no longer be around. They will not make it to the Promised Land. They will be lost in the wilderness.
Though this year we are in transition, this year we are still shackled. Next year with family. Next year with friends. Next year, different. And an exciting new chapter awaits.