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Chances are, if you ask a dentist over age 65, he may tell you, “I remember when we didn’t even wear gloves.” Will we be telling our grandchildren that we remember when we didn’t have to wear masks to shul? I hope not. But for now, we in Jamaica Estates will take comfort in the baby steps that are allowing us to return to some form of “normal.”

Our Youth Department finished the season with a bang. Capitalizing on the gorgeous spring nights, our Youth Director Zach Herskowitz arranged a special event inviting families from all over to an old-fashioned Drive-In movie. We enjoyed “Zoolander” as a community. It was a chance to relax and socialize at a safe social distance. Unfortunately, there were some technical issues getting the movie started…well, not really…that was just Zach’s creativity at work, using this opportune moment for a one-of-a-kind Color War Breakout! How can we add a special twist to a mid-COVID Color War? By having loads of crazy innovative DIY challenges. Also, for the first time ever, we competed against another shul – the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst. The weeklong event between teams Eish and Mayim reached its finale in head-to-head exciting Zoom competitions and fantastic prizes for all.

Meanwhile, the backyard minyanim were expertly arranged by the hard-working Health Committee at YIJE. We had a surprisingly comforting transition. They provided an intimate setting for t’filah, eliminating chit-chat, but offering the much-needed and missed face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) interaction that we have all craved. The weather was often pleasant and enabled people to start lingering just a bit longer in the street afterward to catch up and engage in ways we had almost forgotten.

For the Jamaica Estates community, these hard-won baby steps have finally culminated in the long-awaited re-opening of our Shul building. Just in time for the extreme heat and humidity, this past Shabbos, we smiled (beneath our masks) and cried as Rabbi Lerner said the She’hecheyanu aloud in appreciation of this momentous day. He shared a thought from the parshah about how Aharon’s staff in the aftermath of the Korach rebellion was made to bloom in the darkness, symbolizing that growth often comes from the depths of darkness, and leaving us with the inspiring message that we can only rise higher and higher from what has been a dark few months. Of course, minyan still requires pre-registration, as capacity was limited, the singing was curtailed, and the children stayed home – so we have a long way to go. But for now, with fierce emunah and donning masks, we finally pray together in body and spirit, and keep taking it one step at a time.