People who know me are often shocked to discover that I’m an introvert. As a rabbi, my work puts me in the public sphere all the time. As a Jew, my life regularly demands that I be in community with others. And it is exhausting.
When I sat down to write this piece, I wanted to start out with a litany of the things I miss, that I have given up in the service of this pandemic. But does it really matter that I want to select my own produce, rather than Instacart? The coronavirus has ensconced me in my happy place, with unlimited reading, time in nature and Netflix/Amazon Prime Video. I’m delighted to be sharing workspace with my husband for the first time since graduate school. When I can forget about what’s happening outside my door, it’s nirvana.
It occurs to me, though, that at some point I will have to emerge from the cocoon and re-encounter the world. Will I be able to do that? Will it be more difficult than the world before? And what will the world be like? I see shades of Rip Van Winkle in the time that lies ahead. The world has changed dramatically since the first day of working from home. The challenge would have been present without political upheaval, economic downturn and health concerns. Merely being isolated would be enough to change who we are and how we interface with the world.
In 2005, when Israel divested itself from the Gaza Strip, the action was called Tokhnit HaHitnatkut (“The Program of Disengagement”). It was a painful time for those of us who watched from afar, yearning for peace and watching lives uprooted. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for those experiencing division and dismantling in their own country. (OK, that thought definitely needs revisiting.) At the time, I was at a conference, watching the events unfold on a large-screen-TV broadcasting an Israeli network. I was struck by a public service ad that had apparently been running for weeks leading up to the disengagement itself. It showed seemingly inconsequential scenes of Israelis interacting with one another and ended with the phrase, “As long as we don’t disengage from one another.”
I’ve thought of that often in this time of relative isolation. Each time a community with which I’m connected announces another way to engage, be it physically distant or on Zoom, I get a pit in my stomach. I’ve become too comfortable in my own skin. When we finally rip the masks off, what will become of me?
In so many ways, the past four years have been a time of disengagement in and of itself (and there’s an argument to be made that it’s been going on for longer). When the dust and the tear gas settle, an opportunity lies before us. We can use this time of isolation as an opportunity to reset. We will need to forcibly extract ourselves from the comfort of our bubbles, not only because we are hesitant about the residual health risks, but because we have effectively shut out anything we identified as “other.” I don’t begrudge the fact that we allowed it to happen during the pandemic—we hunkered down to protect ourselves in a frightening time. But we did ourselves a grave disservice well before we closed our doors to the outside world.
There is healing to be done. There are wrongs to be righted. And the loss and the pain and the disappointment will all have been for naught if we don’t chart a new course forward when we have the chance. A new day is dawning. Let’s move into the light, together.
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