The fast is over and the new year of 5781 has begun. When historians look back on this Yom Kippur, they will note how American Jews marked the day and how technology was used to fill the void of communal prayer. Most Jews who observed the holiday adhered to public health experts’ guidance and stayed home. For those who wanted to connect to God through Zoom, it seemed at times like a sociological experiment. While synagogues that offered streaming services did their best to virtually transport people back into temple – making extraordinary efforts to guide congregants through every last prayer – it could not be the same because prayer, in so many ways, is a shared experience.
The pandemic has upended our shared experience. Instead of dealing collectively with all it has wrought – the death of more than 206,000 Americans, and the 7 million other citizens who have contracted the disease; and an economy that may take years to recover – most of us (save for essential workers) are faced with an existential experience. And with this comes the question, what can we do?
Yom Kippur reminds us of just how fleeting life is. With this understanding comes an opportunity to make our world a better place. At a time when political division and polarization has swept through our society, we must step back from the divisive rhetoric and remind ourselves that there is more to life than political ideology. People make their own decisions in life, and it is rare that an argument will change a person’s vote. If we are to have public discourse, it should be civil and consistent with our democratic principles. Above all, we need to conduct our conversations with respect and dignity.
With so much technology embedded in our lives, it is easy to forget that we are human beings – filled with emotions, love, ideals and the capability to perform acts of loving kindness to strangers, friends, neighbors and families. This time of year – when we review our lives and reassess our priorities – is an opportunity to break free of the solitude that has gripped our nation over the last seven months. Many of us have been given much in this life and asked very little in return. We can show our gratitude in many different ways to our fellow man, but let us start with common respect.