When you learn something it’s not necessarily a lesson. You can also be reminded of something and learn it again.
Most of what I learned in the past year has been driven by a pandemic that has blighted facts, freedom to travel, attend lifecycle events and hug friends and family. Early on, the environment wreaked of stress and anxiety, but my husband and I managed to successfully temper it with a puppy who has thrived in COVID-lockdown with 24/7 attention. After six years without dogs it’s been a welcome and needed return to the stress relieving unconditional-love-wrapped-in-fur that exponentially increases your smile factor.
Returning to routines unrelated to feeding and walking the puppy has also been instructive and helpful. For decades, our Shabbat family favorite challah came from store-bought frozen dough. The lockdown motivated me to return to my long-lost bread baking days. Kneading my own creation every Friday has been a great stress relieving therapy.
Perseverating over personal and family health while witnessing the toxic rise of public discourse and violence has felt more poisonous than COVID-19. My rabbi’s recommendation was to read “Settings of Silver,” a comprehensive primer on Jewish history and discuss each chapter. Returning to history can be incredibly instructive. This book reminded me that dialogue, not dogma, is foundational to the Jewish way of thinking and learning. The Talmud has a lot to teach us about “cancel-culture.” Compiled centuries ago, the rabbis decided to leave in the dissenting opinions, conversations and practices. Our sages knew then that serious and respectful dialogue only strengthens us as individuals.
Teshuvah literally means “return,” and this year I’ll plan to find merit in returning to the lessons I may have known all along.
Melanie Nelkin is the immediate past president of American Jewish Committee-Atlanta, currently serving on the AJC National Executive Council.