They Paved Paradise (and Put up A Parking Lot)

Note: This article appeared in the March 2021 issue of The Scroll.

It’s a sad fact of life that we tend not to appreciate something while we have it. When I was younger, I never really appreciated the freedom I had. I felt good, everything worked fine, I could do almost anything I wanted (so long as I could afford it and my wife would let me). Now, as age starts to creep up on me, I am starting to feel the restraints it brings. The back hurts a little, I don’t sleep as well, I can’t play stickball like I used to… all those things I had, I took for granted, until they were gone. Now, I realize how great I had it and I miss those days. I wish I could get on a real stickball court and teach my grandson how to throw a curveball that had the batter bailing out of the batter’s box before it broke and landed in the lower outside corner of the strike zone box. I wish I could coach his little league baseball team like I used to do with his dad. There are so many things I wish I could do now but time has taken many of those things away from me and now I miss them.

Before I go any further, please do not think that this is the beginning of a “boo-hoo, woe is me” fest. I may have lost a step as the years have accumulated but I have also gained a lot. With the grace of Hashem, my learning is sharper than it used to be. I’d like to think I have acquired a little bit of wisdom over the years and, believe it or not, the number of years I have spent with my lovely wife only make the current times we spend all the sweeter. And, let’s not forget that the years have afforded me the incredible gift of seeing my children grow and strike out on their own. The dividends of my years, in the form of six spectacular grandchildren who make me laugh and keep me young, are the ultimate blessing. 

So, no, I am not bemoaning the gray atop my head. I earned every one of them and I am not going to complain about them. Still, it is a single truth of life that our circumstances change, and frequently, when they do, we can look back at what was with nostalgia and miss what we no longer have.

Over the last year, I would wager that each and every one of us has experienced this in some form or another. We have been separated from each other for an abominably long year. The freedom we once enjoyed to associate, to attend services, to go out to the movies and dinner, all of these are now just memories for many of us as we wait for the pandemic to end. In my mind’s eye, I conjure visions of that first Shabbos when the pandemic restrictions are history and we can once again freely gather in our beautiful sanctuary and give thanks to Hashem that we have come out the other side of this dark night. I see a joyous Friday night Shabbos dinner filled with people. I hear the Friday night melodies being sung by more than 100 voices. I see my Shabbos morning learning group filling the small sanctuary as we learn Hashem’s Torah, laugh, and just revel in our companionship. Shabbos morning services are filled with singing and joy, followed by a Kiddush where we can once again congregate and talk, laugh, argue and do all the things we are denied today.

I am writing this article just a few days before Purim, and it will be published before Pesach. Both of these holidays celebrate a turn of fortune. Purim celebrates the day that was designated as our day of annihilation and turned into the day of our salvation. Pesach celebrates our liberation from crippling bondage designed not just to make us work but to destroy us as a nation. These are themes that we might take some more meaning in today. In our own small way, we are in need of liberation from this bondage called COVID-19 and the restrictions we live under every day. As I look around me, I see glimpses of salvation and hope grows each day. Not only do we have the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available, but Johnson and Johnson has also announced that they have a one-dose vaccine and a company in Israel has announced that they have a treatment that cures COVID currently in Phase I trials. In the United States, current trends for new COVID cases and deaths are both trending downward. New York and New Jersey are also showing improvements. As the vaccines are distributed and cures are available, the night will end.

I do not yet know what this Pesach will be like. Will the COVID restrictions be over? I am guessing not but I am willing to bet more and more of our congregation will have been inoculated and some of us may begin to venture out a little as the weather warms. Perhaps more people will return to shul. Our beloved community seder is not to be this year and that hurts but I feel confident that next year, with G-d’s will, will see its return and I pray that 100 of us will sit in our beautiful ballroom and sing praises to Hashem for the gift of freedom.

With all of the unknowns, here’s what I do know. This year, whether we are alone or with family and friends, we are seeing the dawn and we should celebrate the light as it grows around us. When you sit down at your seder to celebrate the freedom Hashem granted us from the horrors of the Egyptians, add an extra note of thanks to Hashem for the imminent salvation coming from this COVID horror. Daylight is coming and I, for one, cannot wait to stand in the sun and drink in its rays with all of you. And, when that day is finally here, perhaps we should have a Pesach all over again to celebrate and appreciate that we once again have what we lost for all too long. And, until that day does come, let us strive to appreciate the gifts and blessings we do have. Make each day special and make this Pesach a Yom Tov to remember. 

If you are shut in and wondering how you can do that, I remind you that the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto baked Matzah and celebrated amidst the horrors of the Nazi tyranny. To be a Jew is to know that Hashem is always with us, even when we do not see him. That’s as good a reason to celebrate as I can come up with.
Chana and I wish all of you a Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Posted in: The Cantor's Cloud

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