disrupted friendships

The process of returning to a semblance of a normal routine has highlighted for me a casualty of the pandemic; friendships. I am not referring to my several closest friendships. Those have remained vibrant, pandemic notwithstanding. I am referring to the many casual friendships I have formed over the years. The friendships made through shared interests, regular interactions, professional, communal activities and events. The people you meet at the gym, the local restaurant owner, the court reporter, professional colleagues. Friendships, more casual in nature, but nonetheless important for they contribute to the fabric and quality of one’s daily life. The last three months of shelter in place have interrupted these friendships. My return has highlighted the loss of these relationships and I now realize that the pandemic will likely fundamentally disrupt many of these casual friendships.

Take for example my synagogue friends. For years, I have attended the same daily early morning minyan (prayer service) along with other regular worshipers. The attendees are a diverse group. Some are young. Some are old. Some are middle aged. Some are elderly. There are college students and retirees, lawyers and bureaucrats, doctors and taxi cab drivers, engineers and construction workers. There is a camaraderie among the regulars, an esprit de corps. My years of regular attendance have enabled me to form “transaction based” friendships with a good number of the regular worshipers. Enter Covid-19. Three months of a shuttered synagogue and I embarrassed to say that many of these friends have fallen of my radar. It was not until my return last week that I realized just how many of these casual friends were “out of sight out of mind” due to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, some of these friendships will remain disrupted. The pandemic has changed routines and greatly restricted freedom of activity. Hence, it is adversely impacting relationships. The longer the pandemic lasts the more relationships and friendships will be disrupted. Another insidious effect of Covid-19.

sunrise (2)

Another Friday another troubling headline:

In countries keeping the coronavirus at bay, experts watch U.S. case numbers with alarm

Washington Post June 19, 2020

With the continuing lackluster (at best) US response to the pandemic I retreat to photography to lift my spirits.

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

my return to the synagogue

Before the Corona virus my first “appointment” of every day was attending the 6:45 am minyan (service) at my synagogue. That came to an abrupt end when on March 14 all the local synagogues shuttered their doors in response to the growing rate and risk of infection. For the last three months, until Monday of this week, every synagogue in my neighborhood has been closed and I and my fellow congregants have been left to pray individually at home. On this past Monday the synagogues resumed public prayer services on a very limited basis. Now there are a limited number of services with attendance restricted to 12 participants (selected by a lottery system) at each service. Strict social distancing must be observed (masks, maintaining 8 feet distance, gloves or hand sanitizing of hands etc.). Other Covid-19 precautions include a truncated service, the requirement to come on time and leave immediately at the conclusion of the service, and the necessity for using a personal siddur (prayer book) as opposed to the synagogue’s prayer books.

The mass closing of synagogues across the globe was an unprecedented historical event. Never before in Jewish history had virtually all places of worship been shuttered worldwide. It was emotionally wrenching to be without the very place one always turned to in times of need. Some saw in this is a Divine message requiring reflection and penance. Others interpreted it as G-d encouraging mankind to refocus on the importance of family. Others may have seen Covid-19 as a punishment. Whatever one’s perspective on the cause and message of the pandemic, the closing worldwide of synagogues was devastating.

Now fast forward three months to June 15 when our local synagogues “reopened”. You would think that it would be a cause for celebration. Finally, we are able to return to that safe sanctuary, to the one place that gives comfort in trying times, to a house of prayer at a time when the world needs prayer more than ever. And yet, for me, the return this week to the synagogue brought sadness; more than I have felt during the three months of complete shutdown. To what have I returned? Not to that warm, friendly, inviting spiritual venue where I have celebrated happy occasions, mourned the loss of relatives and friends, and where I have drawn strength in difficult times. No that is not to where I have “returned”. My synagogue is now a sad place; devoid of vibrancy, unable to serve as it did just a few months ago.

For over a thousand years Jews the world over have prayed for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; for its return to its former glory. Once a year we gather for a national day of mourning, Tisha Baav, to mourn the destruction of the Temple. It has always been a challenge for me emotionally to relate to that loss and to that day of mourning.While I have an intellectual understanding of the Temple’s significance and the great loss its destruction represents, the emotional connection to that loss has always been a challenge for me. Not now. Now I am beginning to understand.

Imagine a parent who banishes his child from the home and then relents and allows the child only a brief visit to the entry foyer. What is more painful to the child the total banishment or the limited partial “reconciliation”?

I am that child.

No hugs

Driving to my office last Thursday I was thinking about how long it had been since we had enjoyed a day away from our home. Other than walking at Brookside Gardens we have not ventured much out of the house except for local shopping, errands, and since last week, my going to the office daily. I called my wife with a bit of a “radical”, by Covid-19 standards, idea. “How about we take Sunday off and drive to New Jersey for the day for a social distance visit with our son, daughter in law, and grandchildren whom we have not seen since January.” Without hesitation, my wife agreed .She had been thinking along exactly the same lines; that’s what 40 plus years of marriage will do! Our kids were excited to have us and our plans were set.

Sunday morning we drove to New Jersey and spent an enjoyable day with our kids and grandchildren. The visit on the patio of their home was enhanced by my 90 year old in laws who drove from Long Island to spend time with all of us. It was the first time since Covid-19 that they had ventured out of their condo and neighborhood. The visit was entirely a pandemic proper visit. All social distancing requirements were observed, including masks, seats 6 feet apart, hand washing etc. By pandemic standards it was a great day and one more step towards a more “normal” life; that is by the new definition of “normal”.

I have absolutely no right to feel sorry for myself. I and all my family are thankfully healthy. All our wage earners are employed. For my family the pandemic so far has been a source of stress and inconvenience – but nothing worse. I need to be and I am thankful for our good fortune.

But – I do terribly miss not being able to hug my kids and my grandchildren.

Sunrise

The headline of today’s New York Times reported:

“On the Future, Americans Can Agree: It Doesn’t Look Good

Battered by a health crisis and fury about racial injustice, voters are mourning the past, worried about the present and fearful of what comes next.”

At difficult times like these we need to support each other and remind each other that the sun always rises on a new day.

© Judah Lifschitz 2020

first week “back”

I am completing my first week “back” in the office. It was an intense, stressful week in which I (i) represented an international client in a significant mediation; (ii) conducted my first ever Zoom platform mediation; and (iii) took three days of deposition with multiple lawyers by Zoom.

My stress came from four sources:

  • Pandemic related stress
  • Technology related stress
  • Economy related stress
  • Case/professional related stress

The latter comes with the territory. It is hard to be a trial lawyer and not experience case driven stress. All the other stresses are unique to the times.

My takeaways at this point in the “back to work” process are the following:

First, I can control to a great extent my risk of exposure to the virus by keeping my daily routine simple and consistent – home to car; car to office; office to car; car to home. Such a routine will not increase my risk of exposure to any material degree. However, I am finding it difficult to have such a limited “life” and miss my “normal” busy life and in particular real personal interaction with family, friends, colleagues and clients.

Second, the technology is much more simple, reliable and effective than I had expected. In fact, over time it will change the way lawyers and courts conduct all kinds of proceedings which until now have all been in person activities. As a result, I do not expect to have to travel for the foreseeable future. While it will hurt my accumulation of frequent flier points it will allow me to avoid the higher risk of virus exposure present in air travel.

Third, I remain concerned about the economy in general and the negative impact of the pandemic on the law business. I hope that as more business “return” to the marketplace economic activity, transactions etc. will pick up. This hope is tempered by a growing concern that the United States will soon experience a second wave (or perhaps better described as the resurgence of the first wave that never concluded) because of a general laxity in maintaining social distancing practices.

Fourth, there will be times when the confluence of these stresses will be difficult to bear…..but there is no other choice but to believe that better times are ahead of us.

working our way through

My first days back in the office were challenging .For while I was in one sense “returning” to the world I had left some 80 days prior, in another very real sense I was entering a very different world; one with a different environment, new risks, limitations on social contact, and in which familiar tasks and activities require new methods and technologies.

Day one, Wednesday, was anxiety filled and stressful. The transition from home to office was not a smooth one. Over the last two and half months I had grown accustomed to a different, less formal, somewhat more relaxed routine and schedule. That abruptly ended Wednesday morning when I was required to revert back to much of my old regular schedule. The only two early morning differences were (i) my synagogue is still closed so I did not need to rush to make an early morning service and (ii) there was no traffic. Other than that I found myself struggling mentally to get back into my former mode and pace.

There was also the need to accommodate all the social distancing requirements. I needed to make sure I had my Covid-19 gear – mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer and to use them as and where required. A few hours in my office allowed me to begin to acclimate to the new workplace social distancing requirements. But working with others in the same room -which requires the wearing of a mask – is not going to be easy.

And then there were the new methods and technologies which must now be implemented in place of the tried and true face to face meetings, negotiations, and depositions etc. This aspect in particular raised my anxiety level quite high as I was to have my first Zoom mediation on Thursday and Friday followed the week after by several video depositions

By Friday afternoon my stress level was abating considerably. The Zoom mediation was excellent. The fact that it was by video not only did not detract from its effectiveness but in certain material respects it was superior to an in person session. For example, it afforded a considerable cost savings for the parties as a traditional in person mediation in this case would have required international travel by at least four participants. Similarly, I practiced the technology to be used for the depositions and am hopeful that we can adequately meet that new challenge, as well.

My first three days back informed me as follows: While many in the US seem to believe that they can end the pandemic simply by declaring it over or by ignoring its reality, the virus does very much remain among us. It will continue to interrupt and change our lives. The stresses of shelter in place will be exchanged for new and different stresses and difficulties. We will each need, individually and together, to work our way through them.

It is a marathon with many hills, curves and turns.

my first day back

Day 80. This is the Washington DC to which I returned yesterday.

Phase 1

Day 78. Tomorrow, seventy nine days after I first began to shelter in place, I will begin the process of returning to my office. This week it will be for the next two days; one to prepare for next week’s depositions and one to participate in my first ever video/zoom mediation. Next week I will be working from my office for the entire week to take my first time ever video depositions.

Clearly, I am not returning to the work environment which I left two and half months ago. It is a changed work place; one of new procedures, safeguards, and restrictions. As I have been contemplating my “return” (a misnomer) my emotions have vacillated between apprehension and resolve. I am leaving the safety of my home where I have been able to control “everything”; where I decided the risks I was willing to take and those that I was unwilling to take. Starting tomorrow, however, I will be entering an environment in which my control is more limited, personal risk management more challenging, and in which my health at least in part will be dependent on the behavior of others.

But nothing lasts forever. And while surely there will still be days on which I work remotely, it was only a matter of time when I would have to venture out into the the uncharted territory of the Corona virus. Tomorrow I begin this part of my own personal pandemic journey.

I still plan on blogging my way thru to the end of the pandemic; though the frequency of my blogs will likely change. In any event, wish me luck as I brave this new world.

Not today

Day 77. On the day when the Washington DC area should finally have able to enjoy a bit of relief from the stresses of the shelter in place orders under which we have been living for two and a half months, the area is under greater tension than could ever have been imagined. The city is under curfew and only time will tell whether the rioting of the last two nights will return. The combined effects of the pandemic and the George Floyd killing have set the country on fire – literally. And no one can predict when peace will be restored. Nor can we evaluate either the short term or long term impacts . One thing is clear – we are a terribly divided country. Our divisions appear to deepen daily. This does not bode well for the challenges before us.

Unfortunately, the peace of the placid lake I passed early this morning belies our current reality.

© Judah Lifschitz 2020