Next Thursday, my mom, sister and I will meet someplace near the Howard County/Montgomery County border for the exchange. Most likely, the shopping center in Burtonsville where we used to meet occasionally for Italian food, before Covid. Sounds clandestine, doesn’t it? Nothing sinister, I promise, is in the works. We will be exchanging Tuperware containers of stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. And, then, returning to our homes for dinner.
My mother called with matter-of-fact news this week. Thanksgiving at her house would be moving to Zoom. Our family always gets together for Thanksgiving. Each year, we make the yearly trek to my parents’ home in Ellicott City with sweet potatoes and green beans in the way back of the minivan, stopping to pick up flowers on the way.
Thanksgiving is one of our family’s two most important holidays of the year; the other is Passover. I’ve only missed Thanksgiving once with my parents in 52-years – the year that I was living in Jerusalem. So, only Covid, or a 10-hour plane ride, can keep us apart on the holiday.
Of course, I am sad about missing the holiday with my parents, sister and nieces. But, I really want us all to be able to celebrate together next year and the year after that. And, so, this year, we will celebrate apart. It was a matter-of-fact decision from “on-high” (my mother).
I suspect that other families in the congregation have made similar decisions for this year. I know it is a difficult choice, but a logical, responsible one.
In Judaism, there is a concept called the “rodef” or the pursuer. A Rodef Shalom is a pursuer of peace; many synagogues have chosen “Rodef Shalom” for their name. But, a rodef can also be a criminal or an animal or a virus cell that pursues a person, intent on harm. In Judaism, it is considered a mitzvah to stop this sort of Rodef in its tracks. And, the best way to stop a Rodef like Covid? Well, a vaccine would be nice. . . But, in lieu of a vaccine, social distancing, mask-wearing and avoiding gatherings is the best defense.
Another textual example from Judaism. In the Torah, we are taught that if we have a flat roof that we use as porch (typical in the ancient Middle East), we must build a fence around its perimeter. By building a fence, we recognize the potential risk of a roof without a fence and we are doing everything in our power to mitigate that risk. This principle is expanded in Jewish teaching to mean setting up protective barriers whenever we can foresee a risk. Covid is such a risk. Mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings are protective barriers.
I will be thankful next week that my children, David, my parents, my sister and my nieces are healthy. And, that we can celebrate Thanksgiving, even if it is only exchanging food in a parking lot and tuning into Zoom together. I know that not everybody is so lucky this Thanksgiving. There has been way too much loss this year. Staying apart, well, it is responsible and it is the Jewish thing to do.