As I return to activities I engaged in prior to corona, I am amazed as to how happy I am to see things I didn’t even know I was even missing. I am actually referring more to people than objects. Of course, I missed seeing my friends and family. But that was no big surprise. But as I return to doing my power walk on the main drag of Ramat Beit Shemesh, I am reunited with the people whom I have gotten to know (aka formed opinions about without ever having spoken to them) while doing my rounds. There’s the guy who, rain or shine, winter or summer, can always be spotted sporting a pair of shorts, talking on the phone with one hand and drinking an iced coffee with the other. He brings me right back to the days I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Vacation Village and makes me feel like I should be walking to the social hall rather than around Nachal Dolev. There is something about his presence that screams Sunday (and we don’t even have Sundays) and relaxes me no matter what kind of stress I’m under. I definitely could have used some of that during lockdown. Then there’s the sweet older woman who also walks to keep in shape. As fellow “walkers,” we always nod and say hello when we pass each other. She always brings a smile to my face. I’m so happy to see her again. There are the teenage girls who sit at the bus stop talking for hours and hours, with no intention whatsoever of getting on a bus. And the Ramat Beit Shemesh resident who walks around picking litter up off the street. I didn’t think about any of these people at all while I was on lockdown. But now I realize that just by doing the normal things they do, they sprinkle my life with joy. I certainly hope that we don’t have to go into lockdown again, but if we do, I think that with my newfound sense of appreciation, I would actually miss these people.
There were many more obvious and more significant things that people missed during the corona crisis. Many longed to be in shuls and batei medrash, the channels we are accustomed to using to connect with Hashem. My husband and I missed our monthly trips to Kever Rachel. Our regular conduits to Hashem were out of our reach.
My family did not go to the Kotel this past Pesach as we do every Chol HaMoed, so we were very happy when the Kotel was opened to visitors. My husband and I decided to go shortly after Shavuos. My son and daughter-in-law had scouted out the territory the day before, so we knew that they were abiding by the guidelines of the Ministry of Health. With infection still on our minds, we figured we could go all the way to the Kotel and back without touching anything, with the exception of the ticket dispenser for parking. As we got out of our car and began our journey, the feeling of anticipation was much greater than when we go to the Kotel as part of our routine. On Chol HaMoed, the Old City is bustling with oceans of people, flowing through the alleys and pathways. The walk to the Kotel takes extra time due to the throngs of people coming to do the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel. But this time there was hardly anybody there. There was not a soul on the street, which is usually guarded and limited to one-way traffic because of the teeming crowds. So sad in a way. But in another way, the walk was so soothing, as we soaked up the peacefulness and tranquility in the air. Kind of like just us on the way to a personal meeting with Hashem. The Kotel was as we expected: More people present, but not full by any stretch of the imagination. I had my choice of seats in the shade as I entered one of the sections enclosed by mechitzot. The entire area was divided into sections in order to maintain proper social distancing. In an ironic sort of way, the partitions that provided physical distance between those who came to daven created spiritual unity between those same people. While we had all come to daven for our own personal needs, we had also come to beseech Hashem to put an end to the tzara that we all face together. At one point, a group of yeshivah boys began to sing slow songs. Although most people couldn’t see them, since they were isolated in their own section, everyone could hear them, as the constant hum typically found at the Kotel was much softer than usual. It was very moving and uplifting.
While we certainly do not want to return to the tumultuous days of lockdown, it would be great if we could somehow hold on to our appreciation of the people we have in our midst, even those who touch us in a most indirect way. We should also do our best to retain our yearning for closeness to Hashem, even when our normal channels of communication with Him are open to us.
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Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.