Here we are once again. It’s Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan. Calling Chodesh Cheshvan “mar” (bitter) has always felt a bit insulting to me. I was born in Cheshvan, so if Cheshvan is mar, what does that say about me? Yes, I know, it’s called MarCheshvan because there are no chagim this month. Fine. So I don’t have to be insulted. But truthfully, I have my own secret reason why Cheshvan is considered mar.

We had very much been looking forward to our son coming home from yeshivah for Yom Tov. After we had gotten used to having him with us for five consecutive months during the first wave of the coronavirus, we really missed him when he was in yeshivah for almost two months straight. Despite the success of his yeshivah in pulling off the almost impossible feat of getting through the z’man with no cases of COVID, we still kept distance from our son upon his return, as we do when any of our children return to the nest after being on the outside for an extended period of time. Some might call this extreme, but even though it is very difficult, I view it as my hishtadlus in keeping the virus at bay. So, when he returned home on Motza’ei Yom Kippur, he was greeted with a big smile and a friendly chat, but no hug or kiss.

This past Yom Kippur is one that will be remembered for a very long time. The degree to which people contorted themselves in order to come up with creative and practical ways to deal with the current situation and have a meaningful davening on Yom Kippur was astounding. Between the virus, the restrictions, the weather, and the obligation to fast, the solutions were varied and truly remarkable. Some davened early. Some davened late. Some davened indoors. Some davened outdoors. Some built structures solely for the tefilot of the Yamim Nora’im. Some davened in parking lots. Others in public parks. But wherever one found oneself, the experience was a first for all. In Tel Aviv, Neilah was attended by many who do not usually observe Yom Kippur, nor do they view it as the holiest day of the year. Who knows what was stirred in the souls of onlookers who stopped in their tracks to listen as the shofar was being blown outdoors at the culmination of Neilah? 

The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah have always looked a certain way in our home. The topics of discussion are pretty much predictable year after year.  In no particular order: Guests. Seats. Shuls. Menu. Shiurim.

Growing up, Tashlich wasn’t just about finding a body of water and saying a short tefilah. Far from it.  It was tashlich!  It was an event, possibly the biggest one of the year. We would set out on Rosh Hashanah afternoon knowing that our estimated time of returning back home was many hours away. This was not because we were going to be davening any long tefilah.  It was because we were going to tashlich.  Throngs of people of all ages and stages from all the surrounding neighborhoods would flock to the lake in Flushing Meadow Park in their Yom Tov finest, eagerly anticipating meeting all the people they hadn’t seen since the previous year. It was an aliyah l’regel of sorts. Between the roundtrip walk to and from the park, plus a good one to two hours spent milling about the lake, it was an all-afternoon affair. Staying awake all Rosh Hashanah afternoon was no problem at all.

Question: How many social workers does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: one - as long as it is willing to change. As a social worker, I’ve heard this joke many times. Only I don’t really think it’s funny. Especially now. Many of us go into the field of social work with a strong sense of idealism. There is no shortage of problems in this big world of ours, and we take it on as our mission to fix them. In social work training, they actually spend a significant amount of time trying to instill within us a healthy dose of reality and prepare us for the fact that, as much as we want and as hard as we try, we will not be able to fix everything. But we are young and committed and we know better. We really are going to make the world a much better place.