In an article, entitled “The Power of Gratitude,” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks tells us that “thankfulness reduces toxic emotions such as resentment, frustration and regret and makes depression less likely. It helps people avoid over-reacting to negative experiences by seeking revenge. It even tends to make people sleep better. It enhances self-respect, making it less likely that you will envy others for their achievements or success. Grateful people tend to have better relationships. Saying ‘thank you’ enhances friendships and elicits better performance from employees. It is also a major factor in strengthening resilience.”
It is sometimes difficult for us to feel appreciation or gratitude when faced with challenging times and circumstances. These last several months have been unusual and filled with uncertainty, and yet I have heard many people say that there has been some good coming as a result of the pandemic, such as more quality time with family, stronger connections and compassionate interactions with friends and neighbors.
These many months have been a time for introspection. Who can believe November is around the corner and the holiday of Thanksgiving, which focuses on gratitude, will be here already?
As a result of COVID and social-distancing, we are learning new ways of expressing appreciation: a shout-out on a Zoom meeting, a thumbs up or heart emoji, regular “check-in” calls—all have a tremendous impact on well-being. Not only do we impact others by expressing gratitude directly, we also enhance our own well-being, and that allows us to focus in the moment on what brings us joy, happiness or satisfaction.
We are so fortunate to have come through the High Holiday season with creative options for services and a new appreciation for Facebook Live Shabbat and havdala services. Together, through technology, we have also provided comfort during times of sadness. We are communally grateful for the flexibility and adaptability of our synagogues and agencies in meeting the needs of our community and its members. We are all supporting our children in having some sense of normalcy at the JDS and at the JCC. We have experienced learning from anywhere and outdoor gym activities, swimming and exercise classes. At JFS, we continue to care for our older adults and to provide food pantry services, Mazel Meals and tele-counseling services. And there are any number (many, many) opportunities to meet, connect and learn in Zoom meetings offered by Jewish Federation and other organizations locally and across the globe. We even toured Jewish Majorca virtually!
During moments of crisis such as the current pandemic, an attitude of gratitude helps us to be positive—to energize, to heal and to bring hope. Again, it was Rabbi Sacks who said, “Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope.” As Thanksgiving approaches, I share the shehecheyanu blessing, typically recited at the beginning of holidays and to celebrate special occasions. Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
My wish for each of us and for all of us is that we have the courage to hope and that we are able to welcome this season of Thanksgiving in good health and in good spirits.