Shattered Plans, Shattered Hearts

Sitting in Hamodia headquarters in this time of great confusion, many questions, thoughts and complaints are coming in through phone calls, emails, texts and even letters.

Let me share with you a sampling of the queries addressed to us:

How worried should I be about getting the coronavirus?

I am 27/15/62/45 years old. What are my chances of catching it?

I have low-grade fever with a cough. Do I have it?

I have high fever with no other symptoms. Is it corona or not?

I feel feverish but the pharmacy has sold out of thermometers, and my old one broke. What should I do?

When it comes to coronavirus, what is considered fever?

How is coronavirus different from the flu?

My throat is throbbing, and my doctor says I should come into the office and take a strep culture. My wife is frightened that I will catch coronavirus in the waiting room. Should I go anyway?

Is it true that someone from Boro Park discovered a vaccine?

It is it true that it will take two and a half years for a vaccine to become available?

What am I doing with my seminary-age daughter after Pesach? I put her on the first plane back to America when this all started. She didn’t even have time to pack properly. Some of her belongings are still in Israel.

What are we going to do with our son? If he goes back to yeshivah in Yerushalayim, he will have to be quarantined for two weeks. I have no immediate family in Israel, and I have been informed that his dorm room is not an option. The yeshivah doesn’t have any replacement program in America, so what should we do?

Why should we pay the full tuition to my daughter’s seminary in Israel when she is missing so much?

Can we get a refund for our canceled trip to Poland?

What about our summer plans? Should we cancel and request a refund for our deposit?

For 12/25/10 years we haven’t made Pesach at home. Now we are stuck, with nowhere to go. Where should I start?

Should I withdraw our savings from the bank and hide it under my mattress?

I sold my stocks at a significant loss and transferred them to cash. Should I hide it in a safe in the closet? Or should I buy savings bonds?

I am a freelancer. When can I apply for unemployment?

My wife/husband forced me to tell my employer — in a business that is considered an essential service and is therefore open legally — that I want to work at home. But, between us, it is much quieter in the office, and I am eager to go back. Am I obligated to listen to my spouse?

These are only some of the many questions that are circulating, along with significant confusion, fear and, worst of all, a level of anxiety that is affecting our communal mental health.

That’s Not What We Had in Mind

For decades, we were accustomed to living our lives according to a set calendar.

Each of the four seasons of the year had its own routine. Each student and parent knew that they would experience a set number of grades in elementary school, and then four years of high school. Adults lived according to an accepted norm so set in stone that we were convinced that only Moshiach, may he come very soon, would change it.

Summer is a classic example. For many in our community around the Jewish globe, and in America in particular, it entails sending our children of various ages to camps in the mountains and going to bungalow colonies — with their own day camps for the little ones. Despite the crushing expenses it involves, this routine has become, in many circles, almost sacrosanct.

For many, Sukkos meant a family trip to Israel. Midwinter vacation was also a pressing reason for an overseas trip.

Many in America, in addition to their winterized homes in the Catskills, also have a third address in sunny Florida, and not only because they reached the golden age.

For the parents of thousands of girls in many Orthodox communities, the post-high school year must be spent in a seminary in Israel; otherwise, they fear that its absence on the shidduch resume will be a bright red flag.

In essence, our lives have consisted of going from one self-understood concept to another.

In the back of our minds, we felt that we owned America, Europe or Israel, and perhaps the world as well.

Many arose each morning with an intense feeling of self-satisfaction. Torah never blossomed like it has in this generation; we daven with a minyan thrice daily; we excel in tzedakah and chessed. It sounds like a total rebuild of Yiddishkeit after Churban Europa.

It is true that there has been a recent rise of anti-Semitism, but more than just some of us are trying to sweep this under the carpet.

In our minds, we were convinced that the Ribbono shel Olam must be very happy with us. He never had such a good generation, we reasoned.

The Melting Point

And then, within a second, this all came crashing down.

A world that prided itself on being a “global village.” A generation so technologically advanced that it seemed unstoppable. A people who sent man to the moon and sends regular missions to outer space was suddenly shocked to discover…

That the Creator sent a tiny — microscopic! — previously unknown virus. Some of us still struggle to get the name right … corona what? And now, a short while later, Hashem made us think about this tiny virus day and night, morning and evening, every waking hour, and even in our dreams.

Our Creator, with a tiny virus, put us completely in our place.

For some, Purim wasn’t Purim.

For most of us, there is real fear that Pesach won’t be Pesach.

Many find themselves suddenly unable to sleep. Nothing is stable. Plans made months ago are now irrelevant. Programs worked on for long weeks and months have been canceled.

Hashem is giving us a very clear message about Who is really in control.

We can promise and daven to Hashem that when this nightmare, b’ezras Hashem, finally comes to an end, we will start again.

But will anything ever be the same again?

Closing the Doors

Eighty-two years ago, the Nazis set aflame about 1,400 shuls in Germany and Austria. This became known as Kristallnacht.

The horrifying symbol of burning shuls was chiseled into the collective heart of Am Yisrael.

Eight decades later, we, with our own hands, were forced to close shuls and yeshivos. The fire of a tiny little virus burns under us and forced us to do so for our own security and health.

As we grapple with a nisayon that was unimaginable only a short time ago, may we have the wisdom to properly channel our pent-up, raw emotions.

May we channel our agony and our unshed tears — not in the direction of depression and malaise but into a powerful longing and a commitment for real change.

My father, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Levin, z”l, wrote in his monumental work Chassidim Mesaprim that in winter of 1939-40, his father, Harav Yitzchak Meir Levin, leader of Agudas Yisrael, went into hiding, as the Nazis were searching for him. One day his brother, Harav Elya Levin, Hy”d, was brought into the hiding place. He was tortured so badly by the Nazis that it was impossible to recognize him.

It took a short while and he came back to himself and he started to look around, and with a smile on his face, he said ,“The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (5:6) says that when man suffers, the Shechinah says ‘Kaleni miroshi kaleni mizroei.’” Reb Yitzchak Meir asked, “Reb Elya — what happened to you, and what is that smile on your face?” Reb Elya answered, “When Jews are suffering tzaros, the Shechinah is also in pain; I will not be the one to cause the Shechinah to be in pain!”

May Hashem collect all the tears, all the pain, all the broken hearts, and the smiles of Jews who are accepting this b’ahavah, and bring this nightmare to a speedy end.

Ruth Lichtenstein, Publisher