As the coronavirus virus (COVID-19) makes travel and large gatherings impossible, a number of North Shore Jews have had to postpone life milestones scheduled for this spring. So what do they do when years of careful planning and joyful anticipation are undone by a silent, invisible threat?
Some call their rabbi and burst into tears. Carrie Almog of Manchester-by-the-Sea was getting ready to marry her Israeli fiancé, Eli, at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem on April 26. But on March 9, Israel imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arriving international visitors. A week later, Almog got an email telling her that the hotel would be closed until four days after their wedding. She had no option but to postpone the wedding and the honeymoon on the island of Santorini.
“I was hysterical at first, but then I talked to Rabbi [Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody] and he helped me put it into perspective pretty quickly,” Almog said. “We can replan, and there are a lot of people who are planning funerals.”
During a crisis that threatens illness, death, and financial ruin, moving a happy day forward a few months becomes more of a nuisance than a catastrophe. “We are happy that everybody we know is home safe and not sick – that’s kind of the bigger concern, because there’s a lot of people out there dealing with a lot worse,” said Maggie Slavet, who recently had to postpone her son Steven’s bar mitzvah, originally planned for March 28 at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, to Aug. 29. “It was a big event that we were obviously disappointed to postpone, but we recognize that we’re lucky to be able to have it, and right now we’re just trying to make sure my parents don’t go out food shopping.”
Another bar mitzvah boy, from Swampscott, also will have to wait. “I think he’d be upset if it were canceled, but because it’s postponed, and he knows he’s gonna have a party and celebrate with his friends, he’s fine – we’re not going to not do it,” said Rori Brodsky of her son Sam, whose May 2 bar mitzvah at Emanu-El was just rescheduled for August.
Still, postponing a large event is not easy, especially amidst a crisis with no certain endpoint. For that reason, everyone has held off ordering new invitations just yet, and have contingency plans if the new date is still impossible. Everyone interviewed praised their rabbis for being flexible and accommodating, and even letting their children recite the Haftorah and/or Torah portion they already learned, regardless of the date. Since all b’nai and b’not mitzvah this spring have been postponed, synagogues are in for a seriously jumbled Parasha schedule later this year.
Rabbis are offering families different options, including livestreaming a private religious ceremony on the original date and postponing the party till later in the year. Some in the community have opted for this, but everyone interviewed for this article said that it was important their family and friends be present for the moment.
“I think [Maya’s] biggest thing is she wants important people in her life, her immediate family and also her friends to come,” said Liza Goss of Wakefield, who just had to postpone her daughter’s May 9 bat mitzvah at Temple Ner Tamid until Sept. 5. “I originally thought my only option would be to somehow video the service and move the party, but my Maya was really not feeling good about that, so the rabbi helped us understand that this is extenuating circumstances.”
However, everyone said that they would consider this option if they had to postpone a second time because their children already need to extend their training and practice to remember everything for the later date. Some are considering creative solutions. “My niece who lives in Swampscott and goes to the same temple [Emanu-El] is scheduled to have hers for Oct. 17, so we talked about if we couldn’t find another date possibly doing it together,” said Brodsky of pairing with her son, Sam. “Otherwise, I do think I would do the religious part and have the party later, because I do think that it would be a lot for [Sam] to have to keep that going, because it’s a lot of material that he’s learned.”
Everyone praised their rabbis and vendors for being accommodating and helping them find new dates that worked. Miraculously, each family was able to find a new date that worked for the temple, photographer, band, DJ, and more, all while trying to coordinate a record-breaking number of postponements and cancellations.
“The woman at the DJ company has to reschedule 37 events, and I’m sure she’s dealing with her own personal challenges,” said Brodsky. “But everyone just wants to help everyone out.”