When I was asked to present a D’var Torah for this week’s JCC Staff Meeting, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we are reading “Tazria/Metzora” This was the parsha I read for my Bar Mitzvah in 1990!
The meaning I drew from this, then, is entirely different, now. The parsha is, essentially, detailed instructions for managing ritual impurity, with the majority of the text dedicated to diagnosing leprosy, thirteen-year-old Noah was not too happy. But, I pressed on.
I gave a speech about how the quarantine measures to isolate people who might have leprosy was not appropriate to apply to people that had contracted HIV/AIDS, which was relatively new, at the time. I emphasized the process by which those who did not, in fact, have leprosy, were welcomed back to the community. A public ceremony, performed by a priest, emphasized the importance of their return from quarantine.
The struggle of seven days (I know, so short!) in isolation was recognized, and those leaving quarantine were embraced by the community of people with whom they had been wandering through the desert. They, too, would be welcomed into the Promised Land. Now, of course, we have a circumstance where most of us are isolated. Yet, we have not lost that sense of community. This is especially true at JCC Denver, where hundreds of people are joining a virtual community to sing, dance, exercise, and, via otherwise cold screens, feel the warmth of all the people with whom we are connected through our mutual connection to the JCC.
We can gain even more insight from the time when Miriam, Moses’ sister, was put into isolation because she had symptoms of leprosy. The People of Israel stopped moving towards the Promised Land. They would not go forward without this key leader; Miriam’s leadership was instrumental to their ability to achieve salvation. A midrash (explanation text) tells us that the “Cloud of Glory,” the representation of God’s presence, disappeared until Miriam was well. (Spoiler alert: Just a rash).
In 1990, I was adamant that we must not isolate those with HIV/AIDS from our community. In 2020, I am similarly adamant that our self-isolation must not compromise our sense of community. At our “virtual JCC,” hundreds of us gather online to sing, dance, hear books, exercise, meet (SO MANY ZOOM MEETINGS).
I cannot, I refuse, to not be grateful for the technology that we currently have to connect us. We, at JCC Denver, have deftly shifted our approach to give incredible opportunities for us to connect to one another, and to maintain a sense of community.