ELLEN GELLER KAMARAS
“COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work, perhaps forever.” ~~ Spectrum News ~~
News reporters and commentators repeat this phrase ad nauseum, almost like a mantra. Trying to lighten our moods one newscaster adds in a positive tone that we have learned to recalibrate every day! For me, these two statements perfectly capture how the pandemic has impacted our lives.
Yes, COVID-19 has dramatically transformed how we live and how we work. We now wear masks in school, at work, when we shop, and at shul; we practice social distancing. We have been separated from loved ones. Our children have not been able to play with friends, attend school in person, or visit with elderly grandparents. Our shuls and our non-essential businesses were closed for months. We were furloughed from our jobs, and many of us now work remotely and feel a real sense of isolation. Those of us with young children have had to learn to multi-task from home, toggling between our paying job, our new job as homeschool teacher,andprovidingchildcareforourlittleones. Mostimportantly,we buried and mourned too many relatives, friends, and colleagues.
Coping with Uncertainty with Ingenuity
Our lives have been consumed by the pandemic and we are living a New Normal. We have learned to live with uncertainty and have worked to turn adverse situations into opportunities. So many of us, including our young children and seniors, have mastered Zoom technology, and learned to study, work, and even connect with doctors virtually.
Right before Sukkot, many Jewish communities were hit with an uptick innewcases. HotspotswereshutdownagaininBrooklynandQueens, taking us back to earlier pandemic phases with only ten men permitted to pray in synagogues and other religious institutions and schools. Non-essential businesses were also closed for a few weeks, causing financial hardship for their owners and inconvenience to their customers.
But, just like a GPS recalibrates when one takes a wrong turn while driving, we have had to learn to recalibrate and pivot our strategies for living and surviving on a daily basis.
The news reports regarding these hot spots evoked renewed fear, anxiety, and concerns about how we will deal with and recover from these shutdowns and the resulting surge in anti-Semitism. I coached myself to stay strong and to remember the wins we have experienced and the resilience, ingenuity, and resources we used to successfully create a New Normal in the past six months.
Research shows that unless we are occupied with positive thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position. We can learn how to keep negative emotions and thoughts in check by amplifying positive emotions. Great leaders know that a positive attitude can be contagious. We do, however, need to take time to process trauma and negative events.
Living Life to the Fullest in These Challenging Times
So how can we best function and live our lives in the New Normal to the fullest, spiritually, personally, and professionally?
First and foremost, we can strive to cultivate a positive mindset. This requires both positive thinking and concrete actions to achieve positive results.
I personally thought about how much I had enjoyed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. Both on Rosh Hashanah in California and on Yom Kippur in Brooklyn, I sat outdoors in a flowing and open white tent, praying for a healthy new year for all and for an end to the pandemic, a true plague or magefah.
Although I was sad that we were forced to sit six feet apart, and younger children and the most vulnerable community members could not attend services, I was struck by how much I delighted in praying outdoors. This was my own bright spot or silver lining during the agonizing six months of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, sickness, loss, and mourning.
As Jews, we are taught to practice positive thinking and gratitude. “Gam zu l’tova” (this too is for the best) is an expression we learn as young children. Growth through adversity and stretching ourselves to achieve our full potential are principles that we Jews have been practicing for thousands of years.
As Jews we understand that the spark that Hashem breathed into us is what helps us to overcome our limitations, be they physical, spiritual, emotional, or financial.
Stay Educated – in Moderation
It is important to be informed and to keep up to date on the latest Coronavirus research and the changing regulations. One way to stay educated is to check the state and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines (including testing and contact tracing). “Staying informed is not just responsible, but critical to our safety right now,” says Kellie Casey Cook, MS, licensed professional counselor.
However, watching too much news and obsessing about Coronavirus statistics can increase one’s level of stress and anxiety. To maintain a healthy balance of staying informed while not overdoing it, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends seeking news about the Coronavirus mainly so that you can take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and your loved ones. Once you have that information, turn off the news.
To help alleviate the mental and emotional toll this is all taking, the CDC recommends taking breaks from watching, listening, or reading news stories, especially since repeatedly hearing about a pandemic is upsetting.
Dr. Viktor Frankl and the Search for Meaning
The freedom to choose one’s mindset is a concept that was developed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and labored in four different camps. His parents, brothers, and pregnant wife all perished. He kept himself alive and maintained hope by summoning up thoughts of his wife and images of reuniting with her. He kept himself focused on a better future, dreaming about sharing after the war what he learned from his Auschwitz experience.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
One of Frankl’s key concepts is that life is a quest for meaning, and the three possible sources for meaning are in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.
There are many life lessons we can take away from Frankl’s teachings about coping with suffering and survival and focus on living our lives with meaning and purpose.
Pay Attention to the Silver Linings
Many rabbis, psychologists, executives, government officials, and bloggers have reported silver lining experiences during these past six months of living with COVID-19. The key to survive the tough periods in one’s life is to maintain a positive outlook. During uncertain and traumatic times fixating on the negative aspects of life can drag one down and cause a downward spiral.
Let’s work to stay true to our special spark of positivity and focus on the silver linings or bright spots that we are experiencing.
Let’s focus on those teachable moments and share them with our families and friends.
I recently read that Coronavirus was the teacher and we are the students. We saw first-hand how people in all different spheres pivoted and thought out of the box to come up with solutions to the novel problems thrown at them during the pandemic. Educators, business owners, and so many others created virtual platforms to keep schools, businesses, and not-for-profit institutions operating.
Our shul set up a volunteer program for shul members to check in with homebound community members, delivering food for the hagim and Shabbat and calling them weekly.
Focus on Connections at This Time of Social Distancing
Again, we call upon our ability to redirect ourselves to foster much-needed connection.
My husband and I learned to read books and play games with our two-year-old grandson using FaceTime. We appreciated celebrating his birthday on Zoom and watching videos of his milestones.
I was so grateful that I could attend shiva calls and funerals remotely and talk to my doctors on video visits. My husband now studies Daf Yomi virtually.
I did my Zumba workouts online instead of at the “J” and joined virtual Weight Watchers meetings to avoid gaining “the Quarantine 15.”
As you live your New Normal, think about what you want your future to look like. Author and coach Dave Hollis wrote, “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
And remember to put Hashem into the picture. At the end of the day, we all know that it is He who is running the show.
Please stay safe and well.
What bright spots or teachable moments did you create during the pandemic?
Did you reconnect with friends or relatives?
Did you learn to appreciate the simple but wonderful things in your life, like family or doing hesed and being able to help someone less fortunate than you?
Did you develop a new skill to help cope with the hardships of
What about a new hobby?
Many people took a host of online classes, from cooking to meditation, to learning a new language. Decluttering one’s home became popular as space was tight with moms and dads working from home and children learning remotely from the living room.