New Year’s Day 2021- Chazak, Chazak. . .

 In Contemporary Life

New Year’s Day 2021- Chazak, Chazak. . .

Rabbi Bonnie Koppell

 

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek- that’s what we’ll say at the end of this week’s parsha, and it seems to be a good prayer for the end of 2020 and the dawn of 2021- we’ve had strength to get to this point; may we have the strength to move forward.

The parsha is ironically called, “Vayechi”- and he lived.  It refers to Jacob, who lived 17 more years in Egypt before his death.  That’s about as much as I can say right now- “Vayechi”- we lived, we got through it.  Thus far, we are the fortunate ones who have survived this pandemic, and we take a moment to acknowledge that 2020 was the deadliest year in US history, with over 300,000 deaths due to the COVID-19 virus.  We mourn this tragic loss of life and acknowledge the unimaginable grief of so many who must face the new year with empty places in their hearts.

We survived, but most of us are in no mood to celebrate.  Happy new year seems terribly stilted.  A recent poll confirms that “Americans are feeling a bit sadder, lonelier and less grateful than last year.”[1]  It’s hard to be happy, it’s hard to feel hopeful- even with a vaccine on the horizon, when we are all just so weary of quarantining, wearing masks, not seeing loved ones, kids in school one week and on Zoom the next, and generally walking around with a sense of fear and uncertainty.  As Mallika Sen put it, “A chill, existential and literal, is setting in once more.”[2]  She describes the American public as “weary and traumatized.”  Pandemic fatigue?  Yes.

We recite this formula- “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,” when we complete a book of the Torah.  This week we conclude the book of Genesis, and, guess, what, things go from bad to worse when we open up the pages of Shemot/Exodus, next week.  A new Pharaoh who doesn’t remember Joseph, and the downhill slide into slavery.  Yet, God hears the cries of the people and appoints Moses to bring us from slavery to freedom.  There IS a message of hope.

Another study suggests that symptoms of depression have increased three-fold during the pandemic.[3]  If you have been feeling more down than usual, if you’ve experienced a change in sleep or eating patterns, loss of interest in people and activities that you have previously enjoyed, if you maybe have even wondered if life is worth living, you are not alone.

Dr. Seth J. Gillihan, a psychology professor, reminds us of the importance of deep sleep, physical movement, a healthy diet, and a positive perspective as remedies for what he calls, “the pandemic blues.”[4]  He encourages us to do things that we enjoy doing and feeling good will be the result.  Don’t wait, in other words, to feel like doing it.  Mindfulness is also critical- worrying about the present or the future is not productive, and can interfere with a feeling of gratitude for the blessings we still enjoy.

It’s hard to say, “Happy New Year.”  It’s easier, for me, to say- “Vayechi,” I survived, “Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek,” I pray for the strength to continue, to hope, to be grateful.

I’ll conclude, though, with the words of someone who is exuberantly positive and inspiring. Poet Alden Solovy shared these words for Rosh HaShanah, and they continue to resonate as we enter the secular new year- May it be healthy and, yes, even HAPPY, for all of us!

Wildly Unimaginable Blessings
Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
Blessings so unexpected,
Blessings so beyond our hopes for this world,
Blessings so unbelievable in this era,
That their very existence
Uplifts our vision of creation,
Our relationships to each other,
And our yearning for life itself.

Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
A complete healing of mind, body, and spirit,
A complete healing for all,
The end of suffering and strife,
The end of plague and disease,
When kindness flows from the river of love,
When goodness flows from the river of grace,
Awakened in the spirit of all beings,
When G-d’s light,
Radiating holiness,
Is seen by everyone.

Let us pray —
With all our hearts —
For wildly unimaginable blessings,
So that G-d will hear the call
To open the gates of the Garden,
Seeing that we haven’t waited,
That we’ve already begun to repair the world,
In testimony to our faith in life,
Our faith in each other,
And our faith in the Holy One,
Blessed be G-d’s Name.

 

[1] Webber, Tammy and Fingerhut, Hannah, “Poll:  Virus-weary Americans less festive this year,” Arizona Republic, Dec. 24, 2020, p. 11A

[2] Sen, Mallika, “In winter, virus stirs up winds of uncertainty,” Arizona Republic, December 24, 2020, p. 1A

[3] Gillihan, Seth J., “Pandemic Blues?  How to Raise Your Spirits,” Bottom Line Persona, Nov. 15, 2020, p. 5

[4] Ibid., pp. 5-7

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