I always thought it very beautiful that in Jewish tradition, the mark of a new day is that of recognizing the face of another.
Once dawn has streaked the sky and you’ve encountered the visage of a fellow human, that’s when prayer may commence.
This concept is known by one word, mi-she-yakir.
But now so many faces have receded from our lives.
During this time of our unprecedented, collective pause, Judaism’s criteria for marking the earliest time for daybreak prayer, which is expressed so poetically in recognizing the visage of another, cannot be met.
With the necessary social distancing measures in place, after the pandemic runs its course and all the repercussions are noted, will this time be remembered as one when we turned our faces away from one another? When the gap in our humanity was distanced as well?
I look around me and among the quietude of deserted streets, I see kindness. Little kindnesses, in spades.
It’s in the bordered up shop windows here on the upper West Side. “Upper West Siders and all New Yorkers — stay strong!” Or, on the windowpane of a tea shop, “To all essential workers in uniform, please come in for a cup of tea.”
When I called The Strand bookstore before Passover, wanting to order a book to read on the holiday, after the personal human voice message explained that they were temporarily closed, the voice ended with comforting and reassuring words: “I hope you can find solace with the books that are on your shelves.”
“Corona couriers” have sprung up all across New York. Young volunteers act as shopping proxies for the elders in our community, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus and hence completely homebound. I was so pleased and proud to learn that Denver’s own Ilan Fine, a high school teen in Israel, was the one to organize and lead just such an endeavor in his community. Together with his co-founder, he mobilized and motivated hundreds of his peers to join him and is now running a full-time multifaceted volunteer operation!
As the coronavirus wields its power by defining the new external and physical boundaries of our lives, life refracted through the prism of the coronavirus has brought a new sense of cohesion into our communities — a cohesion that’s long been dormant.
Of course the day to day living is rife with challenging emotion and unfortunately much tragedy and heartbreak. Many people are floundering. Emotionally, economically, mentally. Collectively, this is testing the mettle of our character like nothing before.
The ambulance sirens are still crying out, unabated. Mercifully, the time lapse between each new siren seems to be growing.
Yet, each evening, come seven o’clock, and the air bursts with uplifting energy. Sustained bells, whistles, cheering, shouts, and I’m very proud to say, from my very own building’s rooftop, the song, Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York.”
By now, each evening, just as twilight begins to emerge, when I lift my window to join New Yorkers in cheering all those corona heroes on the front lines, I see familiar faces. I don’t know who they are, but we recognize each another. All of our buildings face a common courtyard. In the building across from me, on the left, just about a floor or two below me, I see an elegant Asian woman tapping her singing bowl. In the building just beyond me to the right, is an elderly couple that peeks out the window. To my far left across the courtyard is a hipster-looking thirty something, sometimes with his buddies. Depending on the day.
Without a word, nightly, we smile meaningfully into each other’s eyes, as we seal another coronavirus day in this new New York, recognizing each other’s faces.
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