6/7 August 2021, 28/29 Av 5781

Take care of your soul…she is turquoise, agate and jasper…refresh your weary soul. If you do not keep your own soul alive, how will you welcome the morning light? (From an anonymous Medieval poem translated by Rabbi Sharon Cohen-Anisfeld).

We talk a great deal how we have survived and even thrived as a Jewish community during this pandemic. We did. We jumped into Zoom before we fully understood whether it was merely an acronym or a media platform. We moved enthusiastically into online services. I learned to look at the screen. I, as a rabbi used to standing in front of my audience (a.k.a. congregation), learned to establish an energetic connection to worshippers even through the ‘glass life’ of our screens. We established for those who were comfortable postcode groups to support. And for many these were a lifeline in a time otherwise very isolating.

We tried to be there for those who were suffering, visiting when I could, calling or standing on doorsteps very aware of the Talmudic promise; “They who visit a sick person takes away one-sixtieth of their illness” Baba Metzia 30b.

Mostly I was aware of the task to sustain spirits and hope. “Assur l’hit’ya-esh”  – It is forbidden to despair, declared Nachaman of Bratzlav famously, and for me this was the most important task throughout those months. Praying for those who were unwell, so our congregation knew who needed a call. Some congregants were hit hard financially and work dried up. Where we could, we helped. That is what a synagogue community is for. We were there to minimise the fear experienced, and support those who were unwell and isolating as we did in our Morning Service group. We were keen to be as present as possible for those who were struggling.

And you shall restore it to him” says Deuteronomy 22:2.

But what none of us anticipated was what Covid-19 left for many. The heavy burden of Long Covid persisting in the body way after the virus had left. I’ve seen the way it has decimated so many lives, that were full previously and what I hear the most is ‘when will I feel myself again’. Most of us take for granted that we can access ‘ourselves’, our energy and our capabilities. This is not so for those left with Long Covid. “Give it time,” they have been told. But it’s taking way, way longer than anyone expected. The poet Edna St Vincent Millay said “Time doesn’t bring relief”.

And for this, she anticipated well. I see this suffering now amongst our congregants and their families. And I want FPS and our community to respond. The psychological and physical parts of rebuilding oneself is spiritual work. One member struggling hugely still with breathing and energy told me how much kind acts physically impact her and raise her up. That, we can do.

So here at FPS we are beginning to explore, investigate and understand this better, and ways to support. This work is not just about encouraging the continual surge for being ‘back to normal’ but for some the acknowledgement that they will never be their ‘old self’ again. And that is the most challenging, infuriating, exhausting, anger-inducing part of the legacy of Long Covid.

Accepting one’s new self, doing much less but with one’s value not decreased. One of the names given to the synagogue is Beit Knesset, a house of meeting of community. Being supported by one’s community is paramount;  and I am happy for us to be offering this. – That is our work now as a synagogue.

We have created a support group for those suffering from Long Covid and its devastating effects. We will explore means to financially help those who need for ongoing treatment and support, and find ways to raise up and enable a gentle return to life alongside the new normal along with the skills to navigate it all.

Our first informal meeting was on Wednesday 4th August at 2pm. Be in touch if this speaks to you.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rebecca