Acknowledging what we lost: J-Pride Coordinator reflects on one year of pandemic

By Miriam Graham • J-Pride Coordinator

Here we sit at the precipice of a new year. Its beginnings are subtle, but bodily felt; a shift in the weather, the edge of Pesach (Passover), the flowing of maple sap, the anniversary of the first time we were told to stay home. We are moving into a season of storytelling and waking, a season of liberation and wandering.

I want to look back and see the good things that came out of this last year. In many ways, we have been better connected than ever before; I’ve been in Zoom events with people from all over the world, hopped into services at synagogues I’ve never physically been to, and worked with neighbors doing mutual aid with a renewed passion. We’ve strived to make events more accessible than they’ve ever been; we’ve had time for deep introspection; and seen folks across the nation rise up against injustice.

In the haftarah (selection of verses from Prophets) for this week’s Torah portion, though, we encounter a dramatic story that cautions us against lauding the past year: a carpenter takes up his tools, draws and measures, and plants a sapling, which grows with the heavy rain. He then takes the wood from this tree and fashions a statue “like the beauty of man, to sit in the home.” He burns half of it, and upon the coals bakes his bread and his meat, and warms himself by the fire. When he is sated, he pulls out the blackened, twisted statue and prostrates himself in front of it, declaring “save me, for you are my god.”

After relating this parable, God then makes the following comment:

Isaiah 44:19 And he [the carpenter] does not give it thought, and he has neither knowledge nor understanding to say, “Half of it I burnt with fire, and I even baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and ate. And what was left over from it, shall I make for an abomination, shall I bow to rotten wood?”

44:20 a provider [made] of ashes, a deceived heart has perverted him…

I will not bow to the rotten wood of this year. I will not say “but I learned to bake sourdough and fix my bike!” I want to hold all the things that we have lost, I want to see them and acknowledge them.

Many, many of our beloved ones did not make it through this year. Many of us are struggling daily. We have been alone, and scared, and angry; I see that, I see you. We have been deceived again and again by those in power: providers made of ashes, false idols. Too many times in the last year have let us lose loved ones in the streets, or waiting in the ICU for a ventilator. I see them too.

I am holding all of this in my heart as we enter into this new year. The earth is awakening under the caress of the spring sun. I am beginning to get elated messages from friends and family: “I got the vaccine!” I am leaning into the shift from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the wilderness; as we begin to emerge, we feel lost, and must learn again how to hold each other. I am with you in that.

We tell the story of our liberation from slavery in Egypt year after year, as I’m sure we will tell the story of 2020. We make a commitment to never forget the hardships we’ve faced. But at the same time, we keep turning forward towards the sunlight, taking one step at a time into a new era where we are all free, accountable to each other, and able to take delight in the world and ourselves.

Chag Pesach Sameach – have a good Passover!

J-Pride’s mission is to engage Minnesota based Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Jews and their allies to come together for social events, community gatherings, celebrations, and educational opportunities. Click here for more information.