Narrow Bridge

November, 2020

I began writing this column on Election Day and it is quite possible that this issue will go to press before the results of the presidential election have been resolved. Like many of us, over the past few weeks I have grown increasingly anxious, distracted and worried for the future of our nation. I am no seer and my mood of the moment (and it changes from moment to moment!) is that of “cautious optimism”.

I was recently reflecting back on the frightening and disorienting days that immediately followed the terror attacks of 9/11/01. Within days we gathered as a congregation in our beloved Meeting House and, in addition to sharing prayers and reflections, we sang these Hebrew words: Kol ha-olam kulo, gesher tzar m’od; v’ha-ikar lo lifacheyd klal… ”The entire world is but a narrow bridge; the essential thing is to not let fear overwhelm you.”

That song has always been precious to me, a reminder of what is so necessary and, at the same time, so very hard to do. For many of us, for many of our fellow Americans and for many of our fellow-inhabitants on this planet, the past few years and, especially, the past six months have induced more than their share of fears: a lethal pandemic that continues to rage, catastrophic weather events fueled by global warming, horrific terror attacks, civic unrest, a coarsening of what used to pass for the respectful exchange of ideas but has now been subverted by profit-driven social media giants. The list could go on and on and on.

Apart from the things we fear are the great many things we miss: loved ones whose lives were claimed by COVID-19 disease, family and friends with whom we cannot visit, opportunities to pursue our careers and vocations without the use of a computer, the touch of another person.

Making my way through this doom and gloom has not been easy. But I have found inspiration and strength from the community I am privileged to serve as rabbi. Since the pandemic-induced lockdown that began for us back in March, I have been deeply impressed by the resilience and flexibility manifest by our community. Just think of how many of us have added the word “Zoom” to our vocabularies, mastering a technical skill that affords us a deeply-valued level of connection to those aspects of our communal life in which we cannot presently engage in-person: opportunities for learning, worshiping, engaging in tikkun olam (repair of the world) and supporting one another through these stressful times.

Nor have we been content to simply focus our attention inward. This fall our congregation donated unprecedented amounts of money in support of vitally important organizations like the Falmouth Service Center, Belong To Each Other and Housing Assistance Corporation.

Do you know that old joke that defines the quintessential Jewish telegram? It reads, “Start worrying! Details to follow.” It may feel as if there will be never be an end to our worrying. But has there ever been? As a people we have always walked that “narrow bridge”, worrying our way into the future but always resolving not to let our worries or our fears overwhelm us and keep us from the work at hand…the sacred work of establishing our world ever-more-firmly on a foundation of justice, compassion and righteousness. Regardless of which candidate will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021, that work continues.

Reb Elias