Welcome, 2021!

As I looked back on my column for the pre-pandemic New Year, 2020, it was filled with the promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. Little did we know or anticipate the serious affront we would face with regard to our health and wellbeing. In the face of the COVID-19 breakout, people are focused on health and wellness like never before.

As we wrap up 2020, I am pleased to highlight our connection to our global village as we celebrated the Festival of Lights with fellow Jews around the world. As Chanukah began, Israel welcomed the arrival of hundreds of new olim from Ethiopia who lit their Chanukah lights in Israel this year. Through Federation’s overseas partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the first flight of Ethiopian family reunifications, after more than a decade of separation became a reality! Through our partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) we witnessed thousands of teens in over 60 cities across the former Soviet Union celebrating Chanukah in special ways. As 2020 comes to a close, a year of unparalleled uncertainty and upheaval for so many around the world, World ORT, the global education network driven by Jewish values, concludes its 140th anniversary. And finally, we read as Morocco became the fourth country to normalize relations with Israel in the past four months. All of this despite the pandemic!

As we look ahead to what 2021 will bring, we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the vaccines will bring our world much-needed relief. We are reminded that a healthy community is about celebrating our successes. This past year has taught us that we have control in the social support that we derive from our community. Social support and our relationships with family and friends, has been linked to improving the health of the mind, body and soul. Moreover, good social support has been associated with greater quality of life, increased general wellbeing and improved coping skills. Social support is not something that one person can do by themselves, and it is not something that can be developed by New Year’s resolutions—it is only something that can be achieved when we work together and bring our community together.

The current pandemic has taught us many things about ourselves and the communities in which we live—specifically how critical the concept of “it takes a village” is to our well-being. We are realizing, perhaps now more than ever, how necessary it is to be surrounded by friends and loved ones, to be able to shake hands, to hug or to share experiences together. We are now much more ‘experienced’ to recognize that it is sometimes impossible to separate individual health from our broader community’s wellness.

So, what is ahead? I am pleased to share that as a community, we successfully pivoted to meet any number of challenges brought on as a result of COVID-19. And our agencies and synagogues continue to modify and alter plans, as necessary, to get us all safely through this pandemic. It’s no surprise that the whole world is changing due to the pandemic. The term “new normal” has been used since the pandemic first began. As limitations and restrictions extend, companies adjust business plans or people modify daily routines, it’s becoming apparent that some things have irreversibly changed, for better or for worse. For many, change can be dreaded. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that we’re resilient and we can handle change—and with change comes new opportunities.

We live in a world that is constantly on the go—often at a hasty pace. We are continually under pressure to be productive, to compete and to never take a break. It can be especially hard to enjoy the beauty of life if we’re too busy racing through it. John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That perceptive lyric reminds us of the need to take pause every now and then, and to appreciate where we’re at. 

This month (and in the months to come), there will be multiple virtual events, local and global, and opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the social support that comes from a strong community. Involvement in Jewish organizations, participating in community events and taking part in Jewish life focus on spiritual health. Likewise, investing oneself in the community addresses the health of the community, building and creating a vibrant Jewish community that, in turn, contributes to the health and wellbeing of the members who take advantage of the tremendous resources offered. A recent study also found that volunteering has been more strongly linked with increased life expectancy!

In 2021, we are all hopeful that we will be able to meet in-person again soon and to see one another in all the “old familiar places.” As you consider your own personal resolutions, I invite you to consider contributing to the health and well-being of our community in ways that matter to you. Wishing you and those you love happiness and good health in 2021!