Calm in the presence of coronavirus

 I am not calm.  

Like all of you, I’m a mess… facing the possibility of school closures, trying to figure out what to do at Cool Shul, and trying to help my kids whose sports and speech and debate seasons are over, with a senior wondering if she is going to get to have a graduation.  I know some of you are planning Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs, graduations, or weddings, and now everything is up in the air. It is understandable if you feel nervous and uncomfortable about health or simply about all of this uncertainty.  

So, let’s take a deep breath together (well, virtually together), and see if we can create some calm in this storm.

I talked to my class of middle schoolers yesterday about the fact that many traditions acknowledge an aspect of light within dark and vice-versa.  In our prayer book, we thank the universe for the coming of day AND the coming of night.  We acknowledge these cycles, and understand there is no light without dark.  My rabbinical buddy, Walter, always said in class, “Don’t be so sure dark is all bad — there is magic in the stars and beauty in the unknown.”  So, here we are, definitely dealing with a time in history some may label as “dark,” but it is our job as spiritual beings to find the magic in the dark, and uncover the light shining through as stars.   

So, yesterday, I asked my students what light we could create from this scary time. Here is what we came up with: 

  • Appreciate the little things.
  • Be less stressed about small problems
  • Although it sounds “fun” if school is closed, enjoy the parts you love because you will actually miss school if you can’t go.
  • Hope that medical advancements that come from this will help generations to come.
  • Hope that new habits such as washing hands and being respectful of other peoples’ space lasts so that we will have better health for our lifetimes and teach this to our children.

Our challenge is for ourselves and for our children, to go find the light.  If you must be at home for awhile, enjoy the simple pleasures of curling up on the couch, snuggling with the family, watching a dumb movie you never would watch under normal circumstances.  Step into your yard or your balcony, or even just open the window (they say fresh air is good!) and breathe in the freshness.  Enjoy the spot of sun coming through and touching your face.  Pet your dogs, your cats, your birds, your chinchillas, whatever pets you may have, and allow the natural stress relief wash over you of caring for them. If you live alone (or not), find a neighbor or friend to chat with, maybe even invite them for a cup of tea (as long as everyone feels healthy!).  Laugh together, and feel what laughter can do to relieve worry.  And when you catch yourself finding relief in these moments, say Modeh/Modah Ani.  I am grateful.

Just a few times in each of our lives, the universe demonstrates to us how connected we all are.  The whole world is concerned, and that makes us One.  For at least this moment, we are one people, as we should always be if humanity was vulnerable enough to allow itself to acknowledge it.  Let’s bring light from today into the future, that perhaps this can be one of those moments that changes the course of history.  Maybe this is the moment when we truly all start caring for one another, no matter what.

Every morning, I sing that Modeh/Modah Ani, a Jewish chant of gratitude, to help me manage my own anxieties.  Today, I sing the Shema, where we declare “Hear this, everyone, Adonai is One!”  For me, Adonai is the potential for connection, hope, love, and yes, a little bit of fear and awe in the understanding of how delicate the balance of the world is.  This balance lives in all of us, and we live in it.  So we are all One.  We are in this together as one humanity.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.  Hear this Israel. Hear this Humankind.  Adonai is in all of us, and we are all called One.

Here is our Shema.  Andy and I hope that if you choose to play it, and sing along with it in your times of worry, it will help you find the light.   

Listen below or click here if it didn’t come through.

I’m here to talk as needed.

Rabbi/Cantor Diane

God=Memories

As I walked toward the Federal building on Wilshire today to join the Pro-Choice rally, I started to have what I have rarely ever experienced… a panic attack.  And I didn’t know why.

As I approached the protest alone, no sign in my hand, just hoping to be counted as someone who showed up, my heart started to pound. I wandered the length of the people, and walked to the curb to join the protesters chanting and hooting and waving signs, not knowing what exactly to do with myself. I paused next to a small group of people banging on percussion instruments, and someone put one in my hand.  I started striking the drum stick against the bell along with the communal beat and… cried. With each “beep” of approval from a passing car or “woo” from the protesting crowd, my eyes welled up again, and I still did not really understanding what was triggering this reaction.  I fought back the tears (trying not to look like an idiot crying on a street corner while banging on a bell in the middle of a protest), but the release was immense none-the-less. And then it hit me why this was happening.

We all are carrying around so much pent-up emotion these days.  We all have so much doubt and fear about the future of this country and other countries embracing extremist views.  We are worried about the environment, our freedoms, our rights, bigotry, war, and hatred. It’s noisy, and if we just carry on… go to work and feed the dog and hang out with the kids, we can kind of ignore the cacophony for awhile (and that’s important too, because life also has to continue and 24/7 of feeling like this may drive us all insane).  But the reason I cried is because I had to stare right at my fears by standing with those protesters… fear that our rights will be taken away, fear that our government is inhumane, fear that we are heading toward ecological disaster, fear of war, fear that the current level of hatred and anger of this world is insurmountable.  I just couldn’t keep it all inside anymore.

After the tears, and several rounds of letting out my emotions on a bell, I gave the instrument to someone else to bang on for awhile and started to walk away.  I must say I felt a little better. And as I headed to my car, I started thinking about what I was supposed to write a blog about today (this wasn’t it), which led me to chanting the Shema to myself over and over, like a mantra.

I was going to write about our last Shabbat when we talked about defining God as Memories.  I won’t get into all of why… that will be another blog someday. But if it is so that God=Memories, then it turns the meanings of the prayers we say at Shabbat inside out and upside down, including the Shema.  Here is the traditional translation of each word of the Shema.

Shema (Listen or Hear)

Yisrael (The people Israel – let’s expand it to ALL people)

Adonai (our substitute name for God which means “my Lord” but Adon also means Master or Leader so… “my Leader” is a possibility)

Eloheinu (our God)

Adonai (see above)

Echad (One)

If God=Memories, then we could theoretically translate the Shema alternatively as this: Listen, everyone, I am led by our Memories, I am led toward Oneness.

I cried today because for so many of us, our memories of this time in history are and will continue to be painful.  I cried because of memories of a time when we weren’t all so afraid. I cried because I fear for the future I won’t see, and the memories our children will have to endure.  I cried for the memories being formed by women who can’t make choices, by immigrants who are being separated from their families, by the children who have been in lockdown at schools.  But as I chanted the Shema on my way to my car, I remembered that these memories are the fuel for how we handle tomorrow. We are led by these memories, even if they are unpleasant, and we CAN lead ourselves toward a time when more of us see the connectivity in all things, that we are all part of One, and that we better start acting like it.  

Shema Yisrael.. Listen everyone.

Adonai Eloheinu… I am led by our memories

Adonai Echad.. I am led toward Oneness.

May the memories of today, the joyous ones and the painful ones, lead to a future with more understanding, compassion and connection.  And if you feel panicky one day, like I did today, maybe this new translation of the Shema can provide you with a mantra in times of struggle.  

But don’t walk away from the fear. 🙂

For inspiration, hear our Shema here.