It’s time to say a Shehechiyanu.
The prayer helps mark time, take a beat and acknowledge milestones. It thanks God for giving us life, and for bringing us to the present moment.
After more than a year being cooped up in our homes and tied to our computer screens — one of our only sources of connection to the Jewish community — many of us are gradually peeking our heads out from our burrows and reengaging with the world. In person.
We got tested. We socially distanced. We wore masks. (We are still wearing masks.) We sheltered-in-place. We got vaccinated. And now, thanks to our collective efforts, and an unprecedented national investment in vaccine development and distribution, we can reap the benefits.
This is not to say that Covid-19 is behind us, or that its effects won’t be felt for years to come. In the United States alone, approximately 300 people are still dying each day from the disease, and more than 11,000 cases are being diagnosed daily.
Yet that represents an overwhelming drop from a high of more than 4,000 deaths and upwards of 250,000 cases per day earlier this year.
The Bay Area, with some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, has nearly stamped out the disease. On June 17, San Francisco County was reporting only about a dozen new Covid-19 cases per day and negligible deaths, while Alameda County was recording an average of one death per day.
Across the state, new cases and deaths have been falling steadily since mid-March. And on June 15, California finally reopened after well over a year of intermittent lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders.
Three days later, on a Friday, Congregation Sherith Israel, one of the largest synagogues in San Francisco, held its first in-person, indoor service since the pandemic began. Wearing masks, congregants embraced heartily inside the sanctuary. They had survived a great ordeal that was somehow both defined by loneliness and isolation, and yet completely shared.
The joys of coming together were perhaps no better expressed than by kids at Jewish summer camp, as they reunited for the first time in two years. Campers jumped into one another’s arms, danced and sang. They had a lot to catch up on, after overnight camps were shuttered last summer, many for the first time since their founding.
Ari Vared, the executive director of URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, described the return to camp as “pure magic.”
As the Bay Area Jewish community grapples with a new, post-pandemic normal, it will require some experimentation, and some patience. Some congregations, such as Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, are taking it slow — finding online events sufficient, safer and more accessible, at least for now.
But as we begin to feel comfortable venturing out again, sharing a hug, or even experiencing the simple pleasure of sitting down inside a coffee shop, unmasked for the first time in over a year, a prayer, a meditation or a simple expression of gratitude is certainly in order.