Prayer outside synagogue in Betar Illit
Prayer outside synagogue in Betar IllitFlash 90

During the last few days we have been blessed to again pray in our beloved synagogues. This renewed synagogue praying really made me feel that I was returning safely home after a fascinating, but basically bitter, exile in the Land of Corona.

Now because G-d created me a religious romantic, most readers probably feel that these feelings are exaggerated. However, I also believe that a lot of people also had special, positive feelings (even if less intense than mine) about once again experiencing our personal prayer experience ‘in the Home of our community synagogue’, and not in a park, an empty lot, on the sidewalk, or shouting from a porch.

If the reader will permit me one more flight of religious romanticism, coming ‘Home’ to our synagogues can really be compared to the existential feelings of Biblical Jews when they ascended to Jerusalem on the pilgrimage holidays, to the feelings of immigrants arriving in Israel on aliyah, and to a husband and wife on that special night.

Like during all historical exiles of the Jewish people, G-d also did not forget us in our Corona exile. He was With us, (as in all our exiles) and helped us make our two month exile a positive learning experience.

I think we surprised ourselves during this two month ‘exile’ about how much internal spiritual resilience, creativity and determination we managed to actualize.
I think we surprised ourselves during this two month ‘exile’ about how much internal spiritual resilience, creativity and determination we managed to actualize. For example, it was not easy praying outside in inclement weather, disturbed by noise, and standing the whole time. Yet those who did, did it with gusto and with faith, and can deservedly pat ourselves on our back.

We did the Pesach seder, alone, detached from the family members who most love and care for us. But in the end most of us felt, despite the loneliness, that we experienced an innovative, very special seder.

We were cut off, sometimes desperately, from the camaraderie of our communal synagogue life. Learning by Zoom was good, but it also had an element of ‘exile’ as it was not the Real thing. Learning by Zoom was like eating a dietetic ice cream cone. But we kept on using our ‘second best’ Zoom in order maintain the mitzvah of learning Torah.

Also, our national religious community demonstrated its fervid patriotism by fully cooperating with government regulations, and we can honestly share in the nation's pride, as well as our thankfulness to Hashem, in managing the corona epidemic in way that saved many lives, with relatively few deaths.

In summary, our community I believe receives a high grade for the crisis coping skills it demonstrated. We crisis managed our religious and communal lives with fortitude, creativity and resilience. In a real sense we were also enriched by our religious crisis coping. And yet, this crisis coping exile can be compared to one who is enriched by going to college away from home. College learning is enriching, but it cannot be compared to the deep, wholesome experience of Coming Home and again being One with one’s lifelong family.

And now I want to share a personal note. My personal, religious crisis coping became very traumatic because the death of my brother, a dentist, in America, from corona, at the beginning of the corona crisis. It was just so painful to experience his hospitalization, unexpected death, and seven day mourning period while all my siblings and personal relatives were In America. But G-d decreed that I had to traumatically cope with the loss of my brother all alone here in Israel. (I am the only one in my personal family to become observant and make aliyah).

On one hand, my mourning was an exceptional, non-representative, degree of trauma, shared by very few, if any, of my readers. Yet, most of my readers also did experience in the last two months a lesser, but still real, somewhat hidden ,degree of trauma because of the two month’s period’s uncertainties , fears, unanswered questions, and loss of the comforting routine of usual daily and weekly activities.

So when praying in our "settlement’s" Jerusalem Day holiday prayer service, I broke down during Hallel. I suddenly burst out in very deep, sad crying while, and at the same time felt a very happy, redemptive amount of happiness, thanking G-d for our return , after two thousand years of exile, to Israel and to Jerusalem. My powerful crying expressed the painful, lonely sadness of my mourning on my brother’s unexpected death that I had suppressed for six weeks. Yet, at the same time, I did truly, truly feel that the pain of this corona Exile mourning, was being given redemptive meaning, because I was singing Hallel, in the mountain top settlement of Psagot, overlooking Jerusalem, having made aliyah with my wife and two children forty four years ago, and now having our own family of over fifty members, all living in Judea and Sumeria.

Briefly, I would like to think that my mixture of crying and singing during our Yesha community's Jersualem Day HalleI very graphically pictures what it means for the Jewish people to return Home, to return to Israel, to Jerusalem, to our own community synagogues, whether it be after a corona exile of two and half months, or after an exile of two thousand years.

Dr. Chaim Charles Cohen, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College.