Zooming Elijah

On Saturday, I attended an unprecedented event – a zoom bat mitzvah – the first ever hosted by Temple Aliyah. The bat mitzvah girl, her family and the clergy who participated in the service were each at their respective homes, as were the congregants, extended family and friends. The service was beautiful – with all the usual, moving parts of a bat mitzvah – the shining,confident bat mitzvah girl leading the prayers, the Torah and Haftorah reading, and giving her speech, as well as the kvelling parents and the wonderful rabbis blessing her with love.
Out of the entire service, there was one moment that stood out to me. The way the Zoom call was set up, during the actual service, the immediate family’s view on their screen was limited. Then, as the service came to conclusion for the Shehechiyanu blessing, the call was switched to gallery view so that the immediate family could see the extended family and friends on their screen. At that instant, the mom’s eyes welled up with tears of joy.
Although her family was standing alone in their living room, in that moment, she saw that she wasn’t alone. As I watched, I thought: That’s what Judaism is all about.
In the musical, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, when Joseph is sitting in prison, he sings:
Close every door to me,
Keep those I love from me
Children of Israel
Are never alone
This has been the Jewish theme-song ever since because it encapsulates the central message of our faith. Even though we may feel lonely, we are never actually alone because God is with us. We are connected to Jews throughout the world, to Jews backward in time all the way to Abraham and Sarah, through each subsequent generation in our history to the present and from the present forward in time to a better future. More broadly, we are connected to all of humanity going back to Adam and Eve, all created in the image of God – thereby connected in shared sacredness and common hope for a better world.
On Passover, this idea is symbolized by opening the door during the Seder to welcome Elijah, who symbolizes redemption. Elijah simultaneously symbolizes past and future and our connection to Jews worldwide and throughout history.
This Passover has the potential to be the loneliest we have ever experienced, as our Seder tables will be smaller than ever. As Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson noted in last week’s Jewish Journal, at this year’s Seder, Elijah may be our only guest. But even if we feel lonely, we won’t be alone. All over the world, we are in this predicament together.
David Suissa noted that paradoxically, the fact that there are smaller Seder tables means that there are also more Seder tables this year than ever before. We can take comfort in the idea that the door to Elijah will be opened in more homes than ever this year. In this sense, Elijah and Zoom have something in common. They’ll both be busier than ever– connecting us spiritually as we separate physically.
In the recent weeks, I’ve felt these connections through time and space reverberate. On Zoom, I heard Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem offer his advice for isolation based on his experiences in solitary confinement in Soviet prison. In the Global Masorti/Conservative Gathering for healing, I heard the shofar’s blast from Jerusalem, along with prayers from Argentina, New York, and LA. I read the Passover prayers from the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen – from Seder nights infinitely more bleak than this one. I’ve seen the Federation staff working constantly to help the community with food, a community call line, and countless webinars, learning and support opportunities. And I heard the voices of our rabbis coming together to support one another while holding together each of their community – teaching so much Torah that I could barely keep up with it all.
This profusion of content and networks ultimately all boils down to the same thing – to that transformation my friend, the mom of the bat mitzvah girl experienced. It all comes down to the moment when we think we’re alone and then realize we’re not. This Passover, may we have such a moment. May we celebrate our interconnectedness as we never have before with abundant hopes l’shana haba for the year to come.

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