Monthly Archives: April 2020

“This too shall pass.” Meanwhile we sit tight and alone.

My friend Kathy in happier times. May she be writing again soon!

As we tread  carefully through the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, the emotional and physical devastation this plague has caused is felt acutely by so many. As our days of sheltering at home continue, it has become much more real, much more personal, much more frightening.

My husband Larry and I are feeling the impact, as I suspect many of you are. Our community already has had two confirmed deaths from the virus. Kathy, a friend from my writing group who had been sick with bronchitis, posted the following message on a on March 30 on her Facebook page: “I have pneumonia and am in the Poinciana Medical Center where I am getting fantastic care. Take care. Be well.” Two days later, her brother Brian Joyce posted that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator. His daily updates report the news that she is still fighting for her life.

Friends and family are all sharing stories of people they know who have been diagnosed with the corona virus and those who have lost the battle. A longtime congregant of our synagogue in Upstate New York succumbed to the virus this week. My son’s brother-in-law’s grandfather in California died after contracting the virus from his daughter. Each day the numbers continue to climb.

Although most of my friends are retired, many have children on the front line as medical staff or first responders. They post and text pictures of their son or daughter in full protective gear or—worse yet—reused masks and garbage bags for scrubs. Originally, it was believed that the virus mostly attacked the elderly and those with underlying conditions. That “reassurance” no longer works, and my friends are worried that their children or grandchildren will contract it.

Any medical procedure becomes a cause for serious concern and even panic. A friend scheduled for cancer surgery was terrified that he would develop the virus and would be told he must cancel. Meanwhile, his wife had to drop him off at the hospital and pick him up two days later. She couldn’t physically be there for him.

Another friend, also diagnosed with cancer, was told by her Florida doctor that the surgery would be postponed until the pandemic had subsided. Fortunately, she was able to find a doctor in her home town of Pittsburgh who could operate within the week. She and her husband made a hasty trip up for the procedure. I am happy to report that her surgery was a success.

Last week,Larry was involved in a bicycle accident when he slipped on some wet pavement. His primary physician insisted Larry go to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and for potential stitches for the gash on his elbow. I freaked out, fearing he would contract the virus in the waiting room. “Please don’t go,” I begged. “Stay home. I’ll stitch it up myself.” That freaked him out. Wearing a surgical mask, he left for the hospital, where he was immediately ushered into a sterile examining room. He came home two hours later, tetanus shot administered and wounds bandaged—none requiring stitches. He had only the highest praise for the medical staff.

Two days after Larry’s ER visit, friends were anxiously awaiting the birth of their first grandchild. The impending delivery had made more stressful as it was uncertain whether their son could be in attendance as some New York City hospitals were not allowing any partners in the delivery room. Everyone was relieved to learn that he could accompany his wife during delivery, but the planned birth was still fraught with worry. If either the expectant parents had symptoms, would she have to deliver alone? And would she or the baby contract the virus while in the hospital? Thankfully, the baby was born without complications. The proud grandmother sent me a picture taken in the hospital of the father dressed head to toe in scrubs and a surgical mask gingerly holding the swaddled baby in his gloved hands. All that was visible were the father’s proud eyes. 

The coronavirus has taken much from us, but the inability to congregate, to be with those we love, to hug one another in times of joy or sadness, is the most painful. In normal times, we come together to celebrate the birth of a baby, to support ill friends, to say goodbye to a beloved friend or relative. During this time of a “new normal,” grandparents cannot hold their newborn grandchild. Friends and family cannot celebrate birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. High school and college students cannot celebrate graduations. Jews cannot gather around a huge table or meet in a large room to hold a seder. Most tragically, family and friends cannot even help those who lost a loved ones to grieve, to offer hugs and human touch. 

One day, in the unforeseeable future, the corona virus will be behind us. We will gather together and hug each other tightly and even plant kisses on each other’s cheeks that are wet with tears of joy. We will hold our friends and family not only in our hearts but also in our arms.

On Friday, March 20, for the first time since serving as our spiritual leader, Rabbi Karen Allen did not conduct Shabbat services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee. The synagogue, like thankfully churches, mosques, and other religious meeting places, were closed due to the pandemic. In a letter sent to the entire congregation, Rabbi Allen suggested the following:  At 8:00 p.m. that evening, “when we would all prefer to be together in the sanctuary, let’s do two things that are emblematic of the worship service:recite the Sh’ma and Mi Shebeirach prayers.”

Like Rabbi Allen, Larry and I could not be together with other members of our congregation.. Instead, we set the table with white linens and good china and crystal wine glasses. We lit the Shabbos candles, said Kiddish, and ate the delicious warm challah I had made from scratch. We recited the Sh’ma. Then we prayed for all of those—too many to even count— in need of healing.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu, m’kor ha-bra-cha l’avoteinu./Bless those in need of healing with r’fu-a sh’lei-ma./The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,/And let us say Amen.

Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home.

Published in (Capital District) Jewish World April 16, 2020 and in (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News April 17, 2020.

Why Is This Passover Different Than All Other Passovers?

One of Judaism’s most important holidays officially begins with the first seder onApril 8. Pesach in the Time of Corononvirus, however, will be very different.

During these difficult times, I think of my parents, Fran and Bill Cohen. .As did many of the Greatest Generation, they went through several challenging times.In 1919, the Spanish flu was raging throughout the world. My mother, born in 1917, fell deathly ill. The family doctor saved her life by making a deep incision into her right lung to drain the fluid. 

To help in her recovery, my grandmother Ethel left New York City with her daughter for Alburgh, Vermont. They stayed for several weeks with Ethel’s brother Paul and his wife Bertie at their home on Lake Champlain. One of their visitors was Ethel’s step-mother’s sister and her grandson Wilfred Cohen. Fran and Bill didn’t meet again until their blind date in 1939. They were married in August 1940. When anyone asked her as to how she got the huge scar on her back, she loved telling people how she survived the flu and met her future husband—all before her second birthday.

Several other cataclysmic events shook their world. The Great Depression, World War II, news of the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War I am sure at times they were afraid—for themselves and later for their children and grandchildren. 

As I write this, we are in the second week of our own national crisis. Larry and I worry about our friends and family—especially our own children.Thankfully, my daughter-in-law delivered our grandson days  before the mass shutdowns in San Francisco were enforced. Adam, Sarah, and the baby are now “sheltered in place” in San Francisco. My heart broke when we had to cancel our trip out to meet the baby. It broke even more when I realized that Sarah’s parents, who only live a mile from them, have only seen him through a window when they have dropped off supplies, including a fresh baked challah for his first Shabbat. 

Summit County had the first case of the virus in Colorado. A young man who had skied in Italy before his next planned trip to the Rockies recovered in a hospital only a mile from my daughter Julie and her family’s home. They returned from a week’s vacation with us to closed resorts, schools, and businesses. They too are in mandatory “shelter in place” mode. They are telecommuting between keeping our granddaughter busy with both educational and fun activities, including learning about the height of a giraffe, the life of a butterfly, and the hands-on steps of baking a challah. 

As residents of Florida, Larry and I are not yet under the same mandatory restrictions as California, Colorado, and other areas of the country.  But restaurants, non-essential businesses, then even DisneyWorld and Universal are now closed down.In our fifty-five plus community, all activities and events have been cancelled or postponed.Most of the people here are respectful of the six foot distance rule, which we practice on our frequent bike rides, walks, and conversations with friends from one end of a driveway to the other.We give each other virtual hugs and then head home.

For the rest of the day, we do what we can to keep busy. Larry and I often sit on our lanai, reading books doing the puzzles, and watching birds dive into the pond behind our house. Larry spends a great deal of time Googling great moments in sports and watching reruns of his favorite shows. I spend an inordinate amount of time on FaceBook and watching Great Performances on PBS. We call and text with friends. We watch television. On the first Friday of the “new normal,” I made a Shabbos dinner, complete with wine and a delicious freshly baked challah—my first since moving down her from New York.

The best part of every day is FaceTiming with our family, an almost daily treat that began on March 10, just before the world changed. Larry and I were planning to go to a play that  was being put on by our local theater guild—what was to be our last outing before our own lockdown. Julie, who was very worried about our contracting the virus, begged us to stay home. She must have shared her fears with her brother. Shortly before Larry and I were to leave. Adam FaceTimed with us and offered us a sweet deal: If we didn’t go out, he would keep the camera on the baby. For the next hour, we watched our six day old grandchild poop and pee and eat and sleep and poop some more. With all due respect to my friends in Deathtrap, it was one of the best performances we had seen by a leading actor in our lifetime.

Despite the impact the pandemic has had on our lives, I feel very grateful. Grateful for good health with no underlying conditions. Grateful for the current health of extended family and friends.Grateful for our life in Florida with its abundant sunshine. Grateful for modern technology that allows us to connect with our family and friends, to stream shows and movies, to download library books onto our electronic readers. Grateful that we are retired and not dealing with working at home or—worse yet—possible unemployment.

We also feel grateful to have a fully stocked refrigerator and pantry, as not all people have that luxury. Those individuals in our surrounding neighborhoods who are losing income due to the shutdowns could especially use some help. The refund we received from the cancelled Shalom Club seder went to the local food bank. As our synagogue had already deposited the check, the board called everyone who was attending to ask if their money could go to the same place. Scott Maxwell In a recent column in the Orlando Sentinel, Scott Maxwell offers many other ways to give to veterans, hungry school children, and the homeless. My favorite of his suggestions: “Did you hoard? Pay it forward.” And we call all follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines and STAY HOME.

So why is this Passover different from every other Passovers? We certainly will not be emptying our house of chometz, as we have stocked up on many dry goods that certainly don’t follow strict Kosher guidelines. Community, seders have already been cancelled. Relatives and friends who usually have a houseful for the holiday will have only two or three at the table, possibly enhanced virtually thanks to FaceTime or Zoom.

No matter, I will make a seder for the two of us. In the days that follow—if we can somehow get more than the two dozen eggs per family limit at the local supermarket—we will feast on sponge cakes, matzoh brie, and Passover popovers. Most importantly, we will FaceTime with our family and give each other virtual hugs. And Larry and I will pray that the coronavirus will pass over all of our homes and leave us, like our ancestor, safe, healthy, and free from fear.

First published in Jewish World, April 2, 2020