Rosh Hashanah 5782: Make It A Better Year

I am an eternal optimist. But wow, it’s hard to be an optimist these days. Natural disasters abound, precipitated by and exacerbated by climate change—floods, hurricanes, drought, fires, tornadoes, and historical heat levels never before seen. COVID, which for a brief period of months appeared to be getting under control, continues to spread, hospitals are once again overwhelmed, and people continue to die. People would rather trust conspiracy theorists and take drugs meant for livestock than listen to science and medical experts and take a vaccine that has been proven to be effective.

Human beings continue to be treated as less than human—whether it’s because of their race, their gender, their religion, or their national origin. Immigrants are denied entry, women are denied the right to control their own bodies and treated as breeders, and people of color are abused and killed without any consequences for those who assaulted them. Gun violence hasn’t abated and in some places is worse. Our government is broken because hatred and greed and the lust for power rule instead of reason, kindness, and compromise. Our Supreme Court has become nothing but a rubber stamp for those who would oppress others. Add to all this the personal issues so many are facing, and it’s damn hard to be an optimist.

So how do I greet the new year? How do I wish people a shana tova, a good year, when things look so dire?

In these times it’s important to look backward instead of forward, I think. I find strength in knowing that my ancestors and others faced what must have seemed to them insurmountable obstacles and yet they survived—oppression, concentration camps, awful diseases, poverty, and hunger, things that most of us cannot imagine. They didn’t have our resources, our medical knowledge, our technology, our access to information. But they persevered. Of course, millions died from all those causes, but millions also survived. They went on with their lives—they fell in love, they pursued careers, they had children. They somehow found hope. We must also.

We must dig in deep and find the strength to make the glass at least half full. We must fight against climate change, COVID, evil politicians, and hatred and prejudice. Maybe we need to wallow for a bit and feel the despair. But then we must get back to making this a better world for our descendants so that someday they, too, can look back and be amazed by the resilience of their ancestors.

And so, shana tova. Make it a good year. It’s up to us.

By Gilabrand (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


I will return to “regular programming” next Friday after the holiday.

2020: The Year of the Pandemic


Image by iXimus from Pixabay

I’ve already written six posts about life during the COVID pandemic, and I am certainly hoping that this is, if not the last one, one of the last ones. The vaccinations have started, and some of my doctor and health care worker friends and family have already had their first inoculation. My mother, as a resident of a long-term care facility, should be getting her first shot in the next couple of weeks. I don’t expect that I will get mine until early March at best, but I already feel some lightness in the air that surrounds me. I can foresee the day when we can once again hug our children and other loved ones without fear of being infected or infecting them.

In the end, I’ve realized that that is what I want more than anything else. Sure, I miss restaurants and movies and theater and concerts. I miss eating in the homes of my friends and having them come to mine. I miss traveling to other parts of the country and the world. But I haven’t missed any of that nearly as much as I miss the feel of my daughters’ hugs or of my arms around my grandsons, kissing their sweet little heads. I want to do that without fear and with a full heart. I long for that more than anything else. And if I continue to be lucky and do all I can to be safe, maybe by the late spring that will be possible. Maybe.

So much is still unknown. But 2021 has to be better, doesn’t it?

Sadly, that’s what I wrote a year ago on this blog. 2019 was not an easy year. My father died in February, and by November we had to move my mother to a memory care facility. I was filled with hope for 2020, but we were not even three months into the year when everything crashed around us.

But we were among the lucky ones—so far. We didn’t get sick, my mother didn’t get sick, my kids didn’t get sick, and although some other family members had COVID, no one got seriously ill. My friends are also all fine. We truly have nothing to complain about and lots to be grateful for.

But my heart breaks for those who died or whose loved ones died. I will never forgive Trump for failing to be a leader. Instead of telling us early on that we need to wear masks and accept restrictions that could save lives, he made the decision to make wearing a mask a sign of weakness and the failure to wear a mask a litmus test for loyalty to him and his campaign for re-election. How many lives might have been spared if only we’d had a leader who believed in science and public health and moral values instead of money and greed and self-aggrandizement? We will never know.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

But one of the first changes in 2021 will be a change in the White House (despite Trump’s deluded and corrupt attempts to claim he won the election). I don’t expect miracles from Joe Biden. But I expect decency and empathy and a willingness to follow the advice of scientists to get us back on our feet in this country. For that reason alone, 2021 has to be better than 2020.

There will continue to be more deaths and illness from COVID for months and months. I know that. There will continue to be people who spread hate and ignorance and fear. I know that. We won’t make as much progress as we need to on fighting climate change or securing universal and affordable health care or adequate protection from gun violence or ending systemic racism. I know that. Our political system will not be cured when Trump departs, nor will all our other societal problems.

But I do have hope for 2021. I have to. We all have to. Without hope we have no dreams for a better future. Without hope we resign ourselves to the worst version of human nature. Without hope we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.

So I am starting 2021 with hope. Hope for kindness and wisdom in our leaders and among all of us. Hope for a return to trust in science and facts and the electoral system. Hope for progress on fighting racism, climate change, poverty, and gun violence. Hope for the end of COVID-19. So much to hope for, all of which will take effort and energy and commitment not only among our political leaders but among each and every one of us who has dreams of a better year, a better country, a better future.

And I hope that a year from now I will feel that this hopefulness was justified.

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

Blogging in a Pandemic: Rosh Hashanah 5781

What a very strange time we live in. A year ago I was preoccupied with moving my mother to Massachusetts and trying to help her find a way to settle into her new surroundings. I had no idea what to expect in the year to come. I really had no idea—who could have imagined what 5780, or what we ordinarily call 2020, would bring?

I have not blogged since late April about the way the pandemic has affected my life. Somehow I adjusted to the new, bizarre reality. Doing most things by Zoom, taking walks in new places, social distancing, and wearing masks—it all just started to become some form of an ordinary routine. Yes, there was always this underlying anxiety and fear of getting sick or having someone I care about get sick. But the change in routine became acceptable most of the time. All I kept saying was, “If only I could be with my family—hug and kiss my children and grandchildren—I could accept all these other restrictions.”

During the summer we started moving in that direction. We got tested and spent several days with our grandsons and their parents in August. My younger daughter came to spend my birthday with me, and I couldn’t resist a birthday hug.

The summer almost felt normal in some ways although we were terribly sad to miss our traditional week with the family on the Cape. The beach was hardly crowded, so we could walk without masks and sit and read like we always do.  We didn’t eat out like we ordinarily do, and in town we had to wear masks, but overall being on the Cape was as restorative and relaxing as it always has been.

But summer is almost over. Rosh Hashanah is for me the first real sign that fall is upon us. And we spent a lot of time in the last month wondering how in the world we would celebrate the holiday. A Zoom Passover was a novelty and was truly special; but the novelty of Zoom has worn off, and Rosh Hashanah is a different kind of holiday. Passover is centered on the home—the seder is its central ritual. Rosh Hashanah is centered on the synagogue—listening to the service, hearing the shofar, being in the sanctuary, seeing our friends. We can’t be in the synagogue this year. And frankly, watching services by Zoom really isn’t very appealing. Though we will try.

So we’ve decided that we have to do something more than sit home alone and watch a service on our computer. We all got tested this week, and my daughters, son-in-law, and grandsons will be coming to stay with us for the holiday. No amount of apples and honey will be sweeter than that.

By Gilabrand (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Shana tova to you all. May 5781 be a happier, healthier year for all people all over the world.

(I will be taking a break from blogging until next week.)

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part IV: It’s Getting Too Real

I’ve written a series of posts over the last five or six weeks to record the experience of living through the pandemic, trying to find some good news among all the darkness. Writing them has been therapeutic for me, and from the responses I’ve gotten, I know that they’ve resonated for others. I am, however, finding it harder and harder to find the light in the darkness. But I am trying.

The last two weeks have made it harder because the virus has come to my community with a vengeance. Many people have died, including the mother of one of my dear friends and the sister of another friend. Our local nursing homes have been ravaged, including 21 deaths in the Jewish Nursing Home near us. Other friends have had loved ones become ill with the virus. I live in dread of hearing that my mother or someone in her memory care facility is infected. My anxiety level has increased to the point that most of the things I was finding helpful—long walks, yoga, Zoom sessions—are becoming less effective.

And the rush of some to resume “normal life” even though it means risking more lives, including their own, is infuriating, as are the actions of those who are putting political ambition and money above the health and well-being of people.

But I know we are among the very fortunate ones. We have a safe home, resources to pay for what we need, food in the house and delivery services bringing more as needed, and, so far, our health. We have the support network of our children, our relatives, our friends, and our community. We have each other. I am always mindful of that.

My three cats are a real source of comfort; they are oblivious to what’s going on outside, and they only care that we are here to feed them and to pet them. They cuddle up next to me day and night and give me some peace.

And little things make me smile. Our neighbors drawing hearts on all the driveways and leaving painted stones on all the doorsteps and paper flowers taped to our windows.

The discovery of more places to walk where we can avoid close contact with people and enjoy the quiet of nature continues to be soothing.

The weekly Shabbat Shalom zooms with family are a needed break from the constant talk of COVID19. Who cannot smile when a five-year-old wants to play Twenty Questions by Zoom?

This week my younger daughter was celebrated by her friends on what would have been Marathon Monday with cards and posters and a bottle of champagne. I can’t tell you how much that meant to her and to us.

There is so much love out there, and the best of human nature can outshine the darkness of illness, death, and the suffering of so many.

One small example from my genealogical activities. While all this has been going on, I’ve connected with a few more cousins who found me through my blog. I think people stuck at home are turning to family history for consolation and also are uncovering photographs and letters that were buried in boxes or trunks in their attics and basements.

One of these cousins sent me scans of some photographs of my Benedict cousins, including this terribly torn photograph of Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, the first cousin of my great-grandfather Isadore Schoenthal:

I was thrilled to receive this photograph—a definite moment of joy. But heartbroken that Hannah’s photo was so damaged. Could it be repaired, I wondered?

I posted it in the Free Photo Restoration group on Facebook, and when I woke up the next morning, three group members had posted repaired versions. Aren’t they amazing?

These people obviously spent a great deal of time fixing this photograph and asked for nothing in return. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It made me smile, and it reminded me once again that most people are kind and good and generous and loving.

I need to keep all these reminders in front of me as things outside get scarier and scarier.

Blogging During A Pandemic

Ordinarily on Tuesday mornings I post about my genealogy research. I have such a post ready for today, but decided that I needed or wanted to write about the present, not the past, today. Often when I am researching a relative from the past, I wonder how they coped, what they felt, what they thought during some personal or public crisis—during wars, the Holocaust, the Depression, the flu epidemic of 1918, and so on. Today I thought I would share with my future descendants answers to those questions for me and my family regarding the current pandemic.

First, let me say that so far everyone in my immediate family has been symptom free. We may be infected, but we have no way of knowing at this moment. My grandsons, my daughters, our son-in-law, my husband, and I are fine. So far. And our extended famiy members and our friends are also fine. So far. Most importantly, my vulnerable 89 year old mother is safely locked down in her wonderful and loving assisted living facility. It’s terrible that I cannot visit her, but it’s also the smart and ethical thing to do. And we have all been able to Skype with her—which she seems to love. As long as she knows we are here and thinking of her and have not just walked away, I can sleep at night knowing she is safe. So far.

Of course, all those “so fars” are what makes much of this so nerve-racking. No matter how strictly we stay isolated away from others and how often we wash our hands, no one is suggesting for a minute that we won’t all end up getting the virus. All they are saying is that doing these things will slow down the progress of the spread so that doctors and nurses and hospitals will be more able to handle the flood of cases. So am I anxiety-free? Hardly. Is anyone?

On the positive side, I am just so proud and impressed by my daughters. Our younger daughter has had a terrible week in so many ways. She’s been training for the Boston Marathon for months, only to have it postponed until September. She was supposed to go to Florida for five days. That trip was canceled. And yesterday she learned that because all the restaurants in Massachusetts have been ordered to close, she will be out of work until they can re-open. Yes, each of these disappointments upset her, but with her usual optimism and strength, she has quickly rebounded and found the positive. She noted that running in September means she can celebrate her birthday when we are all in Boston to watch her cross the finish line. She has been surrounded by love and support from her incredible network of friends and her family and feels so grateful to them all. And when confronted by the reality of losing income for some unknown period of time, she remarked with her characteristic wit, “Well, with all the restaurants, bars, and stores closed, I will be spending a lot less money anyway.”

There have been lots of disappointments. My grandsons were looking forward to a trip to St Martin with their parents. Canceled. Grandparents Day at their school. Canceled. A performance by our older grandson. Canceled. But they also have taken these disappointments in stride—upset, but accepting the wisdom of those decisions. Our son-in-law celebrated his birthday this week—no fancy dinner out, no celebration with friends. But he found joy in being home with his family, sharing a homemade cake. If you look closely at each disappointment and how we respond, you will find that love and gratitude will quickly help you forget that disappointment.

Our older daughter has taken on the role of being our protector. Weeks ago before we were getting any really clear guidance from the government, she was warning us that we should not go to Florida in March as we had planned. She begged, pleaded with us, not to go. But we, being the stubborn teenagers in this scenario, pooh-poohed her concerns. After all, we consulted four doctors (yes, really. Four different doctors.), and all told us we shouldn’t cancel the trip, that we would be fine. Our daughter was apoplectic. The night before we left (yes, we did go), I couldn’t sleep. I knew she was right. But we went.

We practiced as much self-isolation as we could.  We didn’t see people. We walked, and we sat on the beach. We didn’t eat in restaurants unless there was outdoor dining. But after four days of anxiety, we decided it was just too much. There were rumors that all domestic flights would be canceled. So we left. We came home. Our daughter had been right all along.

I don’t want to make this political, except to say that I wish that my two daughters were in charge of our government. Where is the compassion, the honesty, the directness, the sense of hope tempered by the sense of urgency and wisdom that we all have needed since January when the first news of the viral spread in China was published?

So now we are home.  We are trying not to panic. We are not hoarding toilet paper or food or water. We have what we need. So far.  We are staying in touch with our family and our friends. We are grateful for modern technology, which allows us to see each others’ faces, hear their voices, read their words.  We are reaching out to others, and others are reaching out to us. That part feels good.

But the physical isolation is hard. How I wish I could hug and kiss my daughters and my grandsons. And my mother. I am worried about them all, and I am worried about my friends. And yes, I am worried about my husband and me. I know the worst is yet to come. And no, I am not ready for it. But we have no choice.

Stay home, everyone. Be wise. Be compassionate. Do the ethical thing, and keep away from others as much as and as best you can. Find love and gratitude even in these dark days.