Getting back to normal

Getting back to normal

We often hear people talk about the “new normal,” or compare the time we are living through now to the infinitely more desirable Before Times.

They have a point.

At least in this country, life seems to be pretty much back to normal now, although it’s probably just the new normal. It’s hard to remember the pandemic, because time got all mushy and nonspecific; the physics of it were unchanged, but the metaphysics were all wrong.

But doesn’t it feel like it was lightyears ago?

And then, of course, at least for Jews, October 7 changed everything. The creeping antisemitism that we didn’t really have to notice emerged, dripping with sewage. And the nightmare of what happened in southern Israel, the barbarism so great that most of us cannot bring ourselves to read about it — when the New York Times finally decided to run a story straightforwardly detailing the rapes that Hamas used as a way to further degrade and dehumanize their victims before slaughtering them, most people I know, including me, could not even read it.

Given all this, given the upside-downness of the world, it’s really good when events that we loved in the Before Times happen again, and it’s even better when we realize how good those things are, and how lucky we are to have them back.

All this is a long-winded preamble to a thank you to Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, which revived its Shabbaton a few years ago, and has been growing it back to what it used to be before the pandemic.

This year, though, it was different.

To be fair, Beth Sholom is an unusual community. It’s the synagogue that the most committed Conservative rabbis would wish to have — very observant, highly educated, egalitarian, thoughtful, and smart; also genuinely warm and for-real welcoming. If Paradise had a Conservative shul, it would be Beth Sholom. The Shabbatonim at Beth Sholom offers many sessions, with many classes available at each session, and they’re all taught by members. They’re astonishing.

But this year was different because of the terrorist attacks in Israel and the war in Gaza and the school board fights in Teaneck and the tribal animosity increasingly putting various groups at each other’s throats. There were divisions even in the shul, and the most spirited discussions were about the situation abroad or at home. There didn’t seem to be animosity, but certainly some people were a bit careful around other people.

Despite that, though, the sense of beleaguered togetherness was palpable. The most visible jewelry was the dogtag necklace that reads “Bring them home now” and reminds us all about the hostages. Wearing the necklace is futile if you think that in any way it will work toward the fervently desired release of the hostages, but it works gratifying well as a symbol of tribal belonging.

It is wonderful to have the Shabbaton back.

It also will be wonderful to welcome another yearly commemoration back for the second time since the pandemic. On Presidents Day, celebrated on February 19 this year, Rabbi Joseph Prouser is going to read the Gettysburg Address in Hebrew. He translated it, and then he set it to haftarah trope. There is something powerfully if inexplicably moving about hearing it; the words are oddly propulsive in Hebrew, as they are in English.

In his shul, Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes, Rabbi Prouser will ask local politicians to read quotes from statesmen, reminding us that there once was a time when leaders led and political philosophers wrote about ideas; none of them spent their time publically spewing insults. The quotes are interesting, even inspirational, and the show of bipartisan interfaith cooperation is heartening.

But they all pale when compared to “Fourscore and seven years ago,” sung in Hebrew, to remind us of the hope that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


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