the greatest thing

A month ago I launched a web page called Tefilah MeHalev – Prayer From the Heart www.yomtovnusach.com. It all began with an inquiry by my rabbi one morning after services whether I would be willing to “make a tape” of cantorial selections from the High Holiday liturgy. (I am a cantor on the High Holidays) which he would be able to share with individuals who, because of Covid-19, would not be attending services on the holidays. In fulfilling his request I hired a professional producer to help me record several music tracks which I then posted on the web page which I created for this purpose. Little did I know that this simple web page would have such an enormous impact on so many people.

When the site went live two rabbis sent out emails and posted announcements on social media to inform their constituencies. Literally, immediately, the site began to receive hundreds of hits. On the first day more than 450 people visited the site. People from all over the United States, Israel, Europe, Canada and Mexico went to the site and listened to the musical tracks. And then I began receiving chat messages and emails thanking me for creating the site and recording the selections. The messages and emails poignantly revealed the pain that many individuals are experiencing as a result of the drastic impact that the pandemic has wrought to their daily lives and routines. Many of the messages I received expressed the deep longing for a return to “normal” and to the synagogue from which the pandemic has banished them for the last seven months. In the following days and weeks more and more people accessed the site and I continued to be the recipient of emotional thank yours.

It was overwhelming.

Overwhelming because it revealed the enormous need of so many who have been and continue to be denied important aspects of their lives. Overwhelming because it exposed the deep despair being experienced by so many. Overwhelming in the breadth, depth and intensity of the hurt felt by so many.

It was instructive.

Instructive because it demonstrated forcefully that – even in the midst of this pandemic, a pandemic that has limited normal interactions, that requires social distancing; that has drastically changed daily life – that even under such extreme circumstances – we can connect with each other in a real, meaningful and impactful manner. We can support and ease the pain of others – many others. We can help people whom we have never even met.

The great chassidic rabbi, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, known as the Piaseczno Rebbe, who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, taught he following: “The greatest thing a person can do in this world is to help someone else”.

How true this is especially today.

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