BY RABBI EVE POSEN
A few months ago, I stumbled across an online concert of one of my favorite Jewish musicians, Dan Nichols. His music lifted me up out of the darkness I experienced one particular summer, and has always been a go-to for me when I needed my soul to be filled. One of the songs he sang on this virtual performance was “Chazak.” The lyrics of the refrain are “Be strong, let us strengthen one another, be strong, let us celebrate our lives. Be strong, let us strengthen one another. Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek.”
This song is adapted from the words we say when we finish a book of the Torah. It’s in these moments of transition when we wish one another the strength to move through the transition in the presence and power of community.
This spoke volumes to me in my current situation, one that hasn’t been easy. Working from home with two kids who still want me to be fully present with them, coupled with looking at the state of affairs in our country and across the globe, has often led me into a place of darkness and, if I’m not careful, despair. Vacations and trips were cancelled, camps and family visits weren’t able to come to fruition. This has been a major transition in so many ways, leaving me feeling weary and without strength.
Nearly six months into our COVID-19 experience, I am also struck by the ways in which I have seen community strengthen each other. I look to signs from the “quaran-baking” and sharing of those delicious treats on the doorsteps of neighbors and friends, to the mutual offers of grocery pickups for one another, to finding beautifully painted rocks around town. Each of these actions and so many countless others have shown me the strength and the power of our community when we’re working together.
The High Holy Day season is one in which we’re asked to reflect back on our own individual years and how we might have missed the mark or might want to change moving into a new year. We’re also given prayers to recite that are written in the plural, for communal missteps and transgressions. How odd it feels to be praying in the plural when I haven’t been a “we” with the world in quite some time.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “together apart” used as the description of what community looks like right now, and for most of this year. We’re keeping our distance from one another, but still together on the journey. I imagine that might be what the Israelites at the back of the caravan felt about the front of the caravan: distanced, but united.
For me, that’s also what the phrase chazak chazak v’nitchazek means. We are strongest when we’re together. And when we can’t be physically together, we must find other ways to strengthen one another. As we enter into 5781, a year that holds so many unknowns (which itself isn’t so unusual), may we be aware of the ways in which we can lend our strength to each other.
Rabbi Eve Posen is president of the Oregon Board of Rabbis and associate rabbi at Congregation Neveh Shalom.