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A beautiful essay by columnist Jeff Jacoby, extolling what aspects of 2020 were blessings even in a disastrous year. Jacobi expresses my thoughts even better than I could. May we never lose sight of these blessings!
What was great about 2020
by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
December 30, 2020
One year ago, in a column headlined “What was so great about the 2010s,” I remarked that the first decade of the 21st century, “for all its sorrows, has been the best time to be alive.” Despite the media’s relentless focus on bad news, I argued, humankind was living in the most fortunate era our species had ever known.Then came 2020.
The past 12 months have brought misery, turmoil, and distress on a scale that most Americans couldn’t have imagined last New Year’s Eve: the emergence of the coronavirus, a torrent of sickness and death, economic and social lockdowns, a tidal wave of racial protests, frightening riots, a poisonous election campaign, catastrophic wildfires, a nationwide shutdown of sports, concerts, and theaters, millions of lost jobs. If it hasn’t literally been “the worst year ever,” as Time magazine labeled it, it has certainly been the worst that millions of people have known in this lifetime. But it has been a year of good news and glad tidings, too. While 2020 was overloaded with stress and sadness, it also supplied reasons to be grateful and milestones to celebrate. Here are a few.
▪ There was news the world yearned for all year: Two COVID-19 vaccines were developed and brought to market. Before 2020, it took an average of 10 years to create a new vaccine, test it for safety and efficacy, and manufacture it for public use. But this year, due in part to the technology of messenger RNA, or mRNA, it was accomplished in a matter of months — an achievement that marked the start of what is already being called “a golden age of vaccinology.”
▪ Africa was declared free of wild polio, a disease that until recently still infected thousands of young children each year, paralyzing for life those it didn’t kill. In August, the World Health Organization proclaimed a “public health triumph,” announcing that the final remaining strain of wild polio virus had been eradicated in Nigeria, the last country on earth to have reported a case of the disease.
▪ One response to all the lockdowns and restrictions on socializing was a turbocharged rise in rescues and adoptions of animals. “Shelters, nonprofit rescues, private breeders, pet stores — all reported more consumer demand than there were dogs and puppies to fill it,” reported The Washington Post. That was happy news not just for the animals, but for their new humans: Research shows that caring for pets tends to lower blood pressure, increase cardiovascular health, and reduce anxiety.
▪ In the space of a few months, four Muslim countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco — all agreed to normalize relations with Israel. After decades in which the Arab-Israeli standoff had seemed frozen in old hostilities, the sudden surge of peacemaking generated a level of hopeful excitement and joy that no one had been expecting in the Middle East a year earlier.
▪ The politics of 2020 were atrocious, and the US election campaign was as polarizing and toxic as any in living memory. Yet when all was said and done, Americans demonstrated that their commitment to democratic self-government was as unwavering as ever: When the election finally arrived, 21 million more Americans cast ballots than had done so in 2016. In the past four years, America’s population grew by 7.5 million.The increase in voter turnout was triple that.
▪ In July, NASA launched a rocket carrying the nuclear-powered Perseverance, the most advanced Mars rover ever built. Perseverance is designed to search for signs of ancient life on the red planet and to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. Even more ambitious, it will fly a helicopter! In another milestone, 2020 was the year that NASA successfully landed a spacecraft on an asteroid. Equally impressive were the accomplishments of a private American company: Elon Musk’s SpaceX twice flew astronauts to the International Space Station — marking the dawn of commercial human spaceflight.
▪ Charitable giving soared in 2020. America has always been a remarkably philanthropic society, but in this terrible year donors gave even more generously than usual. In the first six months of the pandemic, gifts to charity increased by nearly 7.5 percent over the same period a year earlier. As lockdowns deprived millions of Americans of their regular income, millions of others stepped forward to help — supplying money, food, services, and support of all kinds to people in need.
One other blessing of 2020: a heightened awareness of, and appreciation for, countless workers whom it had been so easy to overlook before — the delivery drivers and supermarket employees, postal clerks and transit operators, sanitation workers and hospital orderlies who kept doing their jobs even as the world went into meltdown. We finally learned to think of them as “essential workers,” and to applaud and give thanks for what they do every day.
The glass wasn’t half-full in 2020, but it certainly wasn’t empty. May we hear more glad tidings in 2021. Read More
Last night I sat with my seven year old, consoling her and wiping away her tears. Not an uncommon sight for a child who has a lot of “feelings.” And believe me, 2020 has given us all plenty of opportunity for tears. Between a global pandemic and its related economic downturn, it’s been a tough year. With continued racial injustice exploding into our consciousness again and refusing to be dimmed into the background noise of the chaos of life, we must confront pain. And pain again, as our political system was rocked by an impeachment and a fractious election that still echoes in the minds of many who refuse to accept its results. We have become socially distanced to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but as our alternate realities and facts show, we have become separated from each other by much more than six feet… There were the inevitable celebrity deaths, as well as those closer to our community, whether by the pandemic, or some other cruel twist. There was isolation, depression, and for weeks our synagogue building was completely closed. Yes, 2020 was not the best year—and that’s not even counting the Murder Hornets.
And yet…that’s not why my child was crying. As I rubbed her back, she explained: “But I LOVED 2020!” I almost paused my soothing efforts, so gobsmacked was I. How in the world could one possibly love what was so obviously a dumpster-fire of a year!? Had I sheltered her too much from the reality of what was going on–the pain and sorrow? Was she simply incapable of recognizing the magnitude of suffering which was 2020? Well, sure. That’s partially true. But underneath it, was a great truth, and that is, even within the curses of 2020, even within the depths of darkness, there exists some light. Now this is, in no way an attempt to minimize the pain many of us experienced last year and continue to experience. There is no simple comfort to ameliorate all the hurt. But we do ourselves a disservice to ignore the good that came into our lives in 2020. Homeschooling an energetic first and second grader was by no means a simple task. Often it was (and still is) a very frustrating endeavor, as I try to understand why every generation of teaching philosophers seem to think it’s good idea to teach math differently again. And beyond the number-bonds and units and tens, the diminishment of contemporary social interactions has obviously taken its toll on my little girl. But, she bounces on through it. She has accepted this new reality, and she has thrived. I am blessed. We have daily FaceTime and Zoom interactions with our far-flung family, and one of the benefits of being home together is many more hugs. This pandemic has given me a chance to interact with our congregation differently, and though I’ve seen very few of you in person, I’ve still gotten to connect to many of you in small 3”-by-5” rectangles on my screens, and have remained in touch with many of our non-local congregants, who in a normal year, I might not see until they return from Florida, like so many migratory birds.
But my blessings may not be your blessings, and your pain is definitely different than my pain. I can’t presume to tell you what will happen in 2021, but I can urge you to identify what WERE the blessings of 2020; and where can you find the blessings in 2021. I urge you to reach out to us here at East Northport Jewish Center. Outside of services, both live and virtual, or classes offered in both formats, we are here to help be the center of your Jewish community. Let us know what we can do to help you in these trying times. Find your Jewish family here, live or live-streamed. We are here for you, and may 2021 bring more blessing into your lives.
As we prepare to enter the Hanukkah season and reflect upon the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight days, I try to continuously focus on all of the positive things that have happened during this calendar year for our congregation.
First and foremost, I am thankful that since we re-opened our sanctuary for services in June, we have had a physical Minyan every Saturday except one! Nothing makes me happier than being able to have our congregants hear the laining of the Torah and Haftarah, in-person, and celebrate Shabbat together!
Also during this period, Rabbi Silverman and Hazzan Walvick have conducted five wonderful B’nai Mitzvah. The families and friends of each of these five wonderful boys, as well as the Board of Directors of the East Northport Jewish Center, could not have been more proud of each of them, on celebrating this most important simcha! They all worked so diligently in preparation by having Bar Mitzvah lessons with Hazzan and Bar Mitzvah project meeting’s with Rabbi over Zoom. When it came to their big days, each of them performed magnificently. Yasher Koach!
Although our communities’ participation during the High Holiday celebrations was extremely limited due to COVID-19, we were still able to offer seats to all of those congregants who wished to attend in-person. Rabbi and Hazzan successfully shortened the length of the services, while successfully maintaining the fervor and emotion which they represent. And for all of those congregants who weren’t comfortable attending in person, we were able to live-stream our services too, for all of those who wished to take part from their own homes. For the two weeks following Yom Kippur, I held my breath… but it turned out that all of our precautions and planning, as well as a bit of luck paid-off, because there were no reported cases of COVID-19 among any of the members of the congregation who attended…Baruch HaShem!
I am now looking forward to attending our annual Menorah lighting celebration on December 15th. This year, instead of being down at Northport Harbor, it will take place on the ENJC property using the large menorah that we set-up every year next to Elwood Road. I hope it is not too chilly that night, and I hope my wife Anna’s latkes are as delicious as always!
Finally, I am extremely optimistic because it seems the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine is finally becoming a reality in record time! The unexpectedly high percentage of effectiveness for multiple vaccines is a tribute to the worldwide scientific community. My fervent hope is that by May or June, the majority of American’s will have received their vaccines, and are protected. As we traditionally say during Pesach, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’, I say, ‘next year, High Holiday services, in-person, for the whole congregation, in our own sanctuary!’.
Being able to maintain our faith, to adapt and to remain positive in the face of tremendous challenges, has been the hallmark of the Jewish people for millennia. We must continue this tradition by remaining optimistic and seeing the positive things in our lives and our community, every single day. Read More