We find ourselves in the midst of the Nine Days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day that we commemorate the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B’Av. As his passed a synagogue he heard the sounds of mourning and crying. “What’s this all about?” Napoleon asked. An aide explained that the Jews were in mourning the loss of their Temple. “When did this happen?” Napoleon asked. The aide replied, “About 1700 years ago.” Napoleon said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long, will merit to see it rebuilt!”
Every year as I prepare for Tisha B’Av I ask myself, “Does my yearning for the Beit Hamikdash increase as time goes on? Or do I get more used to the idea of my life without a Beit Hamikdash?” Does absence, in fact, make the heart grow fonder? Or is there a point that we adapt to a new normal, due to the fact that once something is out of sight it slowly becomes out of mind?
This question is more poignant this year than any in my lifetime, as this is the very same question I am asking about our shul, more than 4 months after we initially closed our doors and with no end to the pandemic in sight. As time goes on, how do our shul members relate to our institution? Has absence made the heart grow fonder? Are people itching to get back to shul (when they feel it is safe to do so)? Or have people begun to get used to a new normal that does not include shul as part of it. I asked this question to anyone willing to answer it: When CoVID is over (may it be speedily and very soon) will you jump at the opportunity to go back to minyan, to shul programs, to the community in which the shul serves as the center? Or are you comfortable and satisfied with your new normal, one in which shul does not play a role in your life?
I believe that the vast majority of shul members (who participated in the past) will jump at the opportunity to reengage and reconnect when there is no longer a health concern. I base this belief on my conversations with many people over the past few months, as well as my firm belief that our shul is the center of Jewish life for Hollywood and plays a critical role in the sense of community and spiritual satisfaction that people seek by moving within walking distance of our shul.
There is much to learn about the challenges and opportunities that absence of loved ones present that can inform and help us navigate this absence from the robust shul experience that we have come to love. The following are excerpts form an article on this topic.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder" and "out of sight, out of mind" are two common sayings people associate with a romance that has been forced apart by distance. But does absence really make the heart grow fonder? “Humans are designed to continually be seeking, striving, and in the process of acquisition,” says Susan Winter, a New York City based relationship expert and bestselling author. She explains that it translates into one’s romantic life is via a heightened sense of “longing and appreciation” when your partner is absent.
As humans, when something is not new or novel or different, it commands less of our attention. It’s everything from partners to food,” Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, agrees. He compares being around a partner all the time to eating your favorite food over and over — no matter how much you love it, after a while, you may start getting a little tired of it. Separation can be a nice palate cleanser to remind yourself why you like your partner in the first place.
“When we’re separated from somebody, then all of the qualities that we’ve become habituated to —” qualities like how someone looks, smells, or talks — “we are reminded of how much we enjoy that,” Klapow says. “So separation is basically a reminder to us that we get reinforcement or reward out of our partners. And you can’t know that until you’re separated.”
Winter agrees that in the case of a long break, you need to really consider how you’re going to maintain a connection with your partner. She says that in the case of breaks that go months to years, “our 'new normal' is to NOT have this partner in our life.” “When our lover has been gone too long, we adapt and move forward. We begin to seek new connections to fill the void.”
Experts agrees that there are things you can do to keep your bond strong. Klapow recommends actively scheduling communication and time for each other, even if you can’t be there in person — and then sticking to that schedule. Winter suggests much the same thing. “Keep the connection by text, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, and in person,” she advises. “And have an end-goal to reunite. Without an end-goal to finally be together, the relationship will dissolve.”
As we approach Tisha B’Av I urge you to use this time to consider the impact that the absence of shul has had on your life. Think about the important role our shul played in creating a community pre-COVID that provides so much. Unlike the Beit Hamikdash, even during this absence there are ways for us to connect and engage with our shul. We know that there will be a time soon when we will be able to return to regular- and even better- shul life. In order for us to be ready for that return, let us acknowledge the shul’s absence in our lives as a perhaps a source of pain in the present, but fondness and optimism in the future.