by Cyd Weissman
Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, John Garfield, Myrna Loy. I can, and do, spend hours with them in the 1930s movies where tuxedos and satin gowns were de rigueur, despite the backdrop of breadlines. I also love dwelling in the 1940s films where celluloid heroes fight and win against all odds. Like the 1942 movie Once Upon a Honeymoon, when Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers escape a German concentration camp to thwart a Nazi plot. Movie moguls knew America needed myths and heroes for troubled times.
Despite the gossamer lens of Hollywood, wise life insights do flicker through. Last week, while watching one of my escapist Depression-era films, I heard a line, that went right to my heart.
The actress, having lost all that was important to her (the script not yet revealing her happily ever after) said: “Let me be a little sad.”
That line lingered, giving me permission to pause. Mostly, I stay focused on the next task at hand, not taking time or permission to pause.
Yom Kippur is our people’s day for a grand pause to look back and to look ahead.
As we look back, I am honestly saying, and if you would like, join me in saying:
“Let me be a little sad,” or, if needed, “deeply sad,” for the things we’ve lost during this most unimaginable year.
We lost the ordinary, like:
- Meeting up for coffee at the little shop in Narberth
- Strolling down store aisles for retail touch
- Visits to those places we had to, wanted to, hoped to go
- The carefree thought, “Oh, it’s only a cough”
We lost the extraordinary,
- Our calendar’s high notes, sung in chorus with children, grandchildren and friends
- The lyrics missing: Seder, Shabbat, vacation, happy birthday to you
- Confidence that the red, white and blue will withstand
- To stand for the black, brown, Jew and the other others
And we lost the most precious:
- Loved ones by the thousands until they were a million and still counting.
- Democracy’s champion, RBG
As individuals, we have lost. As families we have lost. As a country we have lost.
We pause to say we have not lost alone. All of us, from Havertown to Bangkok, from Givatayim to São Paulo. The world has lost.
One stinging loss for me, connected to the High Holidays, is the hug. The one you get and give after summer’s hiatus. The yontif embrace that’s a shul shout, “I’ve missed you,” “I care about you,” and “I am so happy to see you.”
One of the best shul hugs I ever got was during a Shavuot confirmation-class service. I, the education director, was standing in the back of sanctuary, and Josh W., a high school student about to be confirmed and much taller than I, walked the length of the sanctuary, scooped me up over his shoulder and carried me to the bimah. Spontaneity. Exuberance. Joy. Free to just hug.
For the hugs we’ve lost, we pause to be a little sad.
And, in the paradox that is our life, where two self-contradictory notions exist at once, this time of lost is also a time of found.
Now, the word found implies we were looking for something. I’ll venture no one was looking for what you have found over the past seven months.
With Yom Kippur’s permission to pause, I’m also saying and inviting you to say: “Let me be a little grateful — or deeply grateful,” for the things we’ve found.
We found the ordinary, like:
- Learning to smile with our eyes
- Sourdough making, challah baking, and yes, more genealogy (I found my roots)
- Talent flourishing — paintings, carpentry, knitting and more
- Along Karakung Drive, the unceasing comfort of a babbling brook
We found the extraordinary:
- The grit of grocery store and hospital workers, our rabbis and their partners
- And pod time with adult children, grandchildren and friends
- The news, our son healing others of Covid in Israel, healed from his own bout
- We found persistence to ensure the red, white and blue withstand
- And stands for the brown, black, and Jew and other others
Of all the things I found, one of the most special is the hug I feel through time, an intimacy with people past, with history. In the 5,000 hours since the pandemic began, I’ve experienced key historic moments with increased understanding and compassion.
I no longer judge Aunt Jean, who back in the 60s washed and reused aluminum foil. Her sense of scarcity born in the Depression grew in me. I, too, began washing foil.
A hug of compassion.
I’m no longer incredulous, asking, “How could Hitler have come to power?” I now understand how the unthinkable and reality comfortably reside together — wrong forces do take over good people when the motivation is right.
A hug of understanding.
I no longer think of Jonah, the story we read today, as a fish story. Jonah’s quarantine, alone in the belly of the huge fish, changed him. My hours in quarantine, our modern-day belly of the fish, is changing me as well. Solitude transforms.
A hug of understanding and compassion.
During the pandemic, I found the past to be good company, offering solace and a hug through time.
We are not alone in what we have found. Each of you has found something new, important, intoxicating, transformative. We as a community have found, and the world has found anew.
As we look ahead, I am certain the new year will continue to be defined by the lost and the found.
Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers are not coming to save us from the unfolding plot. No movie myths or heroes can. But one of Betty Davis’s lines does flicker through: “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
It is going to be a bumpy year.
What seatbelts can we fasten? The Talmud offers: “If you lift the load with me, I will be able to lift it; and if you will not, I won’t lift it. (Bava Kama 92b)
When we are sad for the losses to come, let’s turn to one another to help lift the load.
In the coming months, when we are grateful for the things we find, let’s turn to each other to magnify and lift each other up.
Our challenge for 5781 is to hug each other for the lost and for the found. We don’t need to live six feet apart. We can find ways to live six feet connected.
A verse from the poet Cathy Cohen says it all: “We wrap ourselves in intimate assembly.”
Now that’s a hug. G’mar hatimah tovah!
Cyd Weissman is the Vice President for Innovation and Impact at Reconstructing Judaism.