Happy new year.
I’ve always found poignancy in the brief, beautiful phrase we use to bid farewell to the Torah every Shabbat: chadesh yameinu ke-kedem. “To make our days new, as they were before” - a seeming contradiction, yes, but one that makes more sense this year than ever before. Certainly, I miss our long-gone intimacy and warmth. But I do not wish to erase the past 9 months, no matter how hard they’ve been. We have gained things - new people, new insight, new sources of strength, new ways of thinking and doing and caring - and we will carry these things as we grow. I’d like to take a moment to share some of what’s been happening at PHS and where things are going.
Since Rosh Hashanah, we have sustained minyanim nearly every Shabbat for Kabbalat Shabbat, Shacharit, and Mincha. To the best of my knowledge, this is without precedent in our shul’s brief history, and many thanks are due to Rabbi Leener and Jonathan Rahmani for making this happen. In 20 degree cold or pounding rain, we’ve raised our voices (at appropriate distances) and shared in communal tefilah. We’ve invested in a 30x30 open tent (with special recognition to Georgette Somjen, who helped beautify our space) and intend to continue meeting in the lot as long as we have access. If you’re comfortable, we’d love to see you there.
Yet we also want to ensure more folks in our community have access to meaningful davening; with the winter more heavily settling upon us, we’re restarting Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday afternoons as well. I’ve found joy not merely in the beautiful tefilah but in the chance to see a set of faces I haven’t otherwise gotten to see in a long time. I hope you’ll all join us, even if you’re chopping broccoli for shabbat at the same time. It’s a nice way to stay connected in these distanced times.
Our flagship education initiative - the Finding God in Isolation series, gracefully organized by Phil Getz and Tamara Tweel - has already had two stellar events. We’re excited for our third one, featuring Rabbi Dr. Ariel Evan Mayse, with two more on the horizon. This kind of program embodies the best of what PHS is about - bringing a surprising and genuinely diverse set of perspectives (academic, hasidic, esoteric and traditional) to a deep and challenging question. We have a lot more exciting programming on the horizon, too, including a great volunteering event on MLK day in conjunction with Repair the World, more zoom cooking classes, a virtual game night, new educational series, and more.
Meanwhile, I’ve been heartened to see our community grow even while there’s a pandemic, as we’ve attracted a new set of folks who’ve been joining us for our outdoors davening. We’ve been announcing new members in our weekly emails, so please take a minute to say hi if you haven’t already! We’ll have to give out nametags when we can finally meet in person. We’ve said goodbye to a few community members - amongst others, Kenny & Etah Hamlet moved to Seattle, and Sam Calabrese & Pamela Ryan decamped to White Plains - but on balance we’re seeing our community grow, even through all this.
It’s hard to look at the next few months and not feel anxious; news of new COVID strains, rising ICU counts, delayed vaccine rollouts, all under the veil of a dark and cold winter. We’ll work hard as a shul and as a community to help each other get through this trying period. If you’re facing financial, emotional, or spiritual challenges we are unequivocally here to support you. Just shoot Rabbi Leener (or myself) an email.
Astonishingly, we are less than 2 months away from Purim, which was the last moment of normalcy many of us felt before the veil of covid descended upon us. While the next two months will be difficult, my hope and prayer for all of us is that we look at Purim 5781 as the moment when we begin to emerge from our yearlong odeal. May we all be like the Jews of Shushan and begin a year of light and joy. Chadesh Yameinu Ke-Kedem.