Closing the Book on 2020
January 1, 2021
By Susan Goldberg Schwartz

I have 20/20 vision, only needing reading glasses since my 40’s.  While this diagnosis tells me that I can see clearly up close and from a distance, it is through reflection and introspection that I see the most clearly.  Reflecting on the year that is about to end, 2020, I know that despite the challenges and losses, there have also been opportunities for learning and growth.

I began 2020 optimistically, making spring and summer travel plans and confirming dates for family gatherings.  As we all know too well, everything came to a standstill in March, when the first cases of COVID-19 arrived in Western New York.  Our world got smaller, our losses larger.  For two months, I did not venture out – my fear of the unknown was genuine.  I got used to ordering my groceries on Instacart, spending afternoons with my grandkids on FaceTime, and working from my new makeshift office at home.

When we held our Passover Seders via zoom, I never expected that this virtual platform would become the norm.  As schools closed in-person learning, synagogues shut their sanctuaries, and restaurants opened for take-out only, we began to adapt.  The organizations that were creative and willing to take chances were the ones that survived, all while the pandemic surged.

Our beautiful summer provided the respite that we all needed.  Time was spent outdoors as much as possible, socially distanced, with family and friends. Groups creatively found ways to gather.  September arrived; a new school year began, we celebrated the High Holy Days virtually and continued to learn new ways to bring meaning to this year.  Elections were held, with people waiting outdoors, masks on and the beautiful lights of Hanukkah were shared throughout the community.

As 2020 comes to a close, we also reach the end of the book of Genesis. Parshat Vayechi begins with Jacob blessing his grandsons, Joseph’s sons, Epfraim and Manasseh, and concludes with the death of both Jacob and Joseph. Genesis was filled with stories of creation, disobedience, faith, family, famine, birth and death. According to Gunther Plaut, the next book, Exodus, continues from the birth of the world and tells of the birth of Israel as a nation, through stories of enslavement and liberation, belief and wanderings.

May the birth of a new year, 2021, begin with blessings of freedom from fear, illness and hunger as we continue toward a year of hope, health and faith, and the continued success of the Buffalo Bills!

Susan Goldberg Schwartz is Director of Jewish Experiences at the Center for Jewish Engagement and Learning powered by The Buffalo Jewish Federation.

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