The other day, I was discussing our shul’s Tish’ah B’Av schedule with our gabbai. I had proposed two minyanim for Minchah, one in the early afternoon and the other around 8:00 p.m. He reminded me that we need time for people to go home and eat the S’udah HaMafsekes, the customary meal before the fast begins. I was frozen in my tracks. I had completely forgotten about that. How could I?! It’s a basic custom, part of this most solemn day on the Jewish calendar.
It drove home to me how during this year everything is in disarray. Nothing about this year is normal: not the disease, not the politics, not the social unrest. It’s as though the entire year, since January, has been one big blur. It’s been a shanah ha’mafsekes, a year that divides us from all our routines. My wife and I try to go to a park in the New York area once a week. We have seen some beautiful places in and around the lower Upstate. But as helpful and as enjoyable as it has been to relax together, I feel that I’m an outsider observing the scenery painted around me. There is just something that gnaws at me – something that just doesn’t let me feel at peace. The world is just different this year. I am sure many, if not most, of you, feel the same way.
The big question is: What will life be like when it returns to “normal”? Well, do you recall the late William Safire, brilliant columnist for The New York Times? He used to write his predictions for the year every January; and he would say that if he’s right, he will remind everyone the following December. If he’s wrong, who’s going to remember? I will try to offer the same kind of predictions for the post-COVID world.
(I hope I’m wrong!) The American voter will become much more liberal, mostly due to guilt about the racial situation and the hope that electing Democrats will help calm the situation – which, of course, it never does.
In the beginning, people will learn to do with less. The Orthodox community will appreciate less lavish weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Brisim, Sheva Brachos, etc. With time, however, we will go right back to where we were.
No spike in religiosity. Davening will likely become shorter, with less accent on chazanus and speeches. If we daven more intently in the shorter time, that could be a good thing. Kiddush will return with full force.
Classes, lectures, and shiurim will return, but many more to be given virtually, e.g., via Zoom. That, too, may be a good thing, as more people might attend from the convenience of their homes.
In the Torah world, life will return to normal (remember, the virus is gone). Rebbeim, moros and students will once again develop that special in-person bond. In the secular world, the lower schools will also return to normal. But in the universities, the professors will become even more radically left, as they feel the boost from the anarchy they inspired over this summer.
Attendance at professional sports such as the NBA and the NFL will suffer due to the blatant infiltration of one-sided political messages in the team names and player uniforms. People enjoy sports to divert from the nastiness of politics. If MLB plays it smart, they could be the big winners next year.
The entertainment world will not change, unfortunately. The same over-the-top trash that brought the country to a social and moral morass will continue.
This could end up being a major bright spot. During the pandemic, we have learned how precious family, friends, and loved ones are. Hopefully, the takeaway of that lesson learned will be internalized and perpetuated.
Israel will stand to suffer greatly in the political world. If a Democratic president wins, coupled with a Democratic House and Senate, the radical left will have its way with BDS and all the anti-Israel sentiment being expressed currently. On the other hand, Israel will learn to be more obstinate and even more productive under the pressure, with Hashem’s help.
What all this has made abundantly clear is what the old baalei musar, practitioners of Torah ethics and belief, used to quip: “Ruba d’ruba, der Ribbono Shel Olam firt de velt” – For most matters, the Master of the Universe is in control of the world. We have witnessed firsthand how in a matter of moments the world can be completely turned on its head by a strange disease emanating from the mysterious Far East and by the murder of one man in the country’s Midwest.
May it be the Ribbono Shel Olam’s will that this year be truly different from all other years with the Ultimate Redemption. Amen!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.