Alone but not lonely
By Simon Lawrence
So, I’m writing this on Monday 23rd March 2020 from my office at Carmel School, Perth, Western Australia. This morning, I davened with the 7, 8 and 9 boys as I do each weekday morning. In the middle of the tefilla, I had a moment of realisation. I stopped tefilla and asked the students to reflect for a moment.
I explained to them that they were present in a moment of unprecedented history, a moment that they needed to treasure for the rest of their lives. I explained that on most Monday mornings, there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of ‘minyanim’ happening in shules around the world, albeit in different time zones. From Amsterdam to Auckland and from Moscow to Mumbai. From Efrat to Edgware, Cape Town to Cardiff and from Montreal to Modiin.
Today, I told them, they were in the unique and utterly bizarre position of being in one of the only ‘minyanim’ in the world. Most shules and schools, in most corners of the world, have been shut for at least the last few days. Yet seeing as we are still functioning as a school, we are still allowed to preserve our minyan, at least for the next few days until we too are open for online learning only. Our protocol has changed slightly, we have spread ourselves out in the school library, we bow to the Torah instead of kissing it and we knock elbows instead of shaking hands after an ‘aliyah’ – but we are a ‘minyan’. I reminded them that each ‘amen’, ‘barechu’ and ‘kaddish’ that we said, were almost unique in the world today and perhaps supporting the Jewish world in a way that goes far beyond our comprehension.
Each and every one of us in that room this morning experienced a very special moment. We felt a responsibility to say ‘amen’ for the whole Jewish people, we felt connected to every member of our nation.
Rashi’s comment on the second verse of Shemot (Exodus) Chapter 19 springs to mind. Here, in Parashat Yitro, when the Torah tells us that the Jewish people encamped at Mount Sinai, it uses the singular form of the verb “to encamp” (va’yichan). One would imagine that when describing the encampment of multitudes, it would use the plural. Rashi explains this by famously saying “ke’ish echad be’lev echad” – ‘as one person, with one heart’. The Jewish people were, at that moment, unified.
I think this was the basis for a song that we learnt (together with the actions!) from our brilliant Bnei Akiva madrichim at Wembley Shabbat Ha’irgun in around 1994 and has stuck with me ever since; “Am echad be’lev echad, kol Yisrael Achim”. One people, with one heart, all of Israel are siblings.
We are a team.
We are a united group, however far apart we may be physically, ideologically and religiously.
This morning was a special moment for myself and for my students.
I am hopeful that soon, we will all be back in our own minyanim.
I missed shul on Shabbat! I missed the familiarity of our minyan, of Rabbi Dan coming to say 'Shabbat Shalom', of the singing of tefillot and my hand clapping annoying my brother in law, of the people, of shul, my second home.
I am fearful that this “matzav” will get worse before it gets better.
But in the midst of the fear and uncertainty, we have hope and we have togetherness.
One people, one heart.
There are fabulous initiatives spreading around the Jewish world including online shiurim, minyanim and meeting points, volunteering to assist the old and needy. Get involved!
One further idea: On this seder night, consider leaving an empty place at your table for the people around the world that may be alone this seder night through no fault of their own.
Stranded but not deserted.
Alone but not lonely.
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