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The Long View

Like many, I was devastated to hear the breaking news a week last Saturday night about moving into Tier 4 restrictions, and what this would mean for my plans to visit my family in Manchester over the Christmas break. Like many, my first thought was – shall I hop in the car right now and head off before the restrictions come into effect at midnight? I’m glad I didn’t – Boris announced the following day that anyone travelling from Tier 4 to a lower Tier would have to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival. (That would have made getting back to SWESRS a little tricky!) Then, with a sunny and dry day forecast for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I thought about driving there and back for the day and sitting in my mum’s garden, joining in the company and chat with my mum, sister and nieces through the open French windows. ‘Don’t do it,’ pleaded my mum. ‘It’s too much driving in one day.’ And I’m glad I didn’t. It has taken several days for the extreme transmissibility of the new strain of the virus to sink in, but over this time I have heard so many stories about people catching the virus even with social distancing, even with masks on, even with doors and windows open. It’s not worth putting anyone at risk, least of all my 81 year old mum.

We have all had to hunker down for yet another bout of almost-lockdown at a time of year when, in good Jewish tradition, most families tend to join in the seasonal festive cheer with some measure of gusto. Have we ever lived through a Christmas like this? Have we ever endured such restriction, such hardship, such gloom?

One upside of my unexpected time alone at home, I decided to catch up on a bit of telly on the iplayer on my laptop. (I don’t have a TV). I stumbled across Upstart Crow, Ben Elton’s hilarious comedy on Will Shakespeare, which sources much of its wry humour from comparisons of perennial grumbles from the bard’s times with our own.  For example. whenever Will makes the journey from his London lodgings to his family at home in Stratford, there’s always a hold-up on the coach, incurring his scathing wrath and drawing for the audience the parallels between the predictably unreliable Elizabethan cross-country horse-drawn carriage service and our own rail service of today. In the current episode, ‘Lockdown Christmas 1603’,  the plague has hit London, and as Christmas approaches, Will and Kate, the landlady’s daughter, are in wave fifteen of state-enforced home confinement together in Will’s London lodgings! As Kate fills endless time with baking, hoarding and DIY haircuts, Will is doing his absolute best to pen the perfect play. The problem is he has zero inspiration. Far from their friends and loved one, will he and Kate find a way to create their own kind of Christmas cheer?

Enjoying a good bout of laughter, an effective antidote to gloom, has not only been uplifting, but has also reminded me to take The Long View. Be it the Influenza of the English Reformation in the 16th century, the plague of London over Christmas 1603, or the Spanish Flu of the years between the First and Second World Wars, we have been here before… and survived! (I can recommend Jonathan Freedland’s series The Long View on Radio 4 which gives an insightful historical reflection on the similarities and differences between many aspects of our current crisis and comparable crises of our past).

Taking The Long View is also a perspective urged by the Psalmist. In Hallel during the 8 days of Chanukah we sang out: ‘The pangs of death drew tight around me, the horrors of the grave took hold of me, I found sorrow and grief. Then I called on the name of the Eternal, ‘God rescue my soul!’… From the narrow straits I called to God. God answered me from a wide-open place.’

That answer has come with the news yesterday that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK!  Although for many this New Year’s Eve it may still feel that we are in those narrow straits, with the new vaccine’s roll-out starting as soon as this coming Monday our journey out to the ‘wide-open space’ is already underway.  With the days getting longer, (and the recent Jupiter Saturn Conjunction apparently promising a brighter future for us all!), we can realistically hope to be approaching something more like ‘normal’ by Pesach.

Crying out - to God, to a friend, to SWESRS support at the end of the telephone line, can bridge that gap between today’s present pain and the place of liberation and salvation that is truly within reach beyond the very difficult few weeks that lie ahead, giving us the strength, perseverance and resilience to see The Long View.

Wishing You Shabbat Shalom and a very Healthy, Good and Happy 2021,

Rabbi Lisa