Postcards From The Pandemic: Making Connections Outside The Temple
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen has not been able to serve his congregation at Temple-Tifereth Israel in traditional ways since the coronavirus pandemic began. He holds services online now and connects with people through technology and socially distanced meetings.
In the past few months, he's still supported people through illnesses and funerals as well as celebrated their bar mitzvahs and weddings.
“All of these occasions, each and every one of them, is an expression of faith,” he said. “It’s an expression of faith in our future. It’s an expression of faith in our ability to overcome.”
Rabbi Cohen with clergy and the Rock My Soul band at a picnic in the temple parking lot on Aug. 16, 2020. [Temple-Tifereth Israel]
Well of course this has been a time of great physical isolation. And what this has meant has really been painfully clear to so many families within our congregation and so many other places.
We have started meeting people outdoors. We’ve started connecting people through walks in parks, which I’ve done on a number of occasions. And through walks and through the outdoors and through keeping a safe distance, different stories, different images, different needs, different issues sometimes come up.
I have to tell you that standing outside a hospital building window with a cell phone to my ear and speaking to someone who’s inside a room whom I can see picking up the phone and speaking into the phone has been both frustrating and at the same time elevating and meaningful to me.
It has enabled me to make it clear to a person that while I cannot be with them in a room, I am still there for them.
Finding God Outside the Temple
I do think that there are many, many ways to connect with people. And I think that while the temple as a safe space, as a welcoming space, as a loving space is so important, there are so many other places where we can meet people and for us to connect with people.
And when we look for elevation, when we look for God, when we look for some kind of transcendence, we find it in different places. And that doesn’t only reside at the temple.
Rabbi Cohen with clergy during a Shabbat service in the temple chapel. Services are no longer in person but are streamed online. [Temple-Tifereth Israel]