When I think back to all that has happened in 2020, there are so many things that come to mind. What promised to be a strong year all-around turned out to be the most devastating in a century.
Not since the Spanish flu did so many innocent people lose their lives to disease. Nobody knows for sure how the coronavirus began, but one thing we do know is that it traveled around the world at record speed, almost as quickly as being a thought on social media. Who knows how it will be retold in the history books and in generations to come?
I’m not sure if the virulence we have seen in the presidential election was fueled by uncertainty and fear of death, but in some ways, both the Democrats and the Republicans glammed on to this and only this story for months, relentlessly bashing each other. The media was also relentless. That was until the sad death in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Then we watched the terrible demonstrations and riots, again manipulated by both parties and the media.
Suddenly, COVID-19 was no longer the one and only news item. We had a new source of death to mourn.
But through this all, there were positive things to come out. Simple things. Good things.
People, forced to stay home or quarantine, faced new challenges of how to pass the days. Streaming became crucial. Sharing jokes online. Reading and organizing, and finally getting to the projects put off for years. Families were separated. Parents could not see their loved ones. People died alone. Yet perhaps to fill that void, new friendships blossomed. Friends became more important. New business ideas grew, and some businesses pivoted and thrived. There was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There was hope.
While all of this was going on, quietly and clandestinely, powerbrokers were working in the Middle East to create peace agreements between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel.
This historic statement marked the first normalization of relations between an Arab country and Israel since that of Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The original Abraham Accords were signed by the UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 15 at the White House in Washington, D.C., brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, my husband’s father was dying in early June in the midst of the Black Lives Matter riots and the coronavirus. We decided to defy the odds, and our boys flew in from the West Coast, and we drove from D.C. to be at his bedside. Our need to have closure trumped COVID-19.
We were fortunate to have that special time together as a family, quarantining for several days and simultaneously saying goodbye to my husband’s father and my children’s grandfather. He died with all of us at his bedside. Not many people and their families had that good fortune.
With death, as the Jewish faith commands, one’s offspring is required to say Kaddish on a daily basis for 11 months We all know of the challenges of having a minyan—let alone a mourner’s minyan—these days. But my husband has managed daily to keep the mitzvah of saying Kaddish.
We were fortunate to be invited to the historic signing of the Abraham Accords. I stood there and witnessed a true miracle on the South Lawn of the White House.
When it was over, I realized the time; it was time to say Mincha. I organized a group of men so that my husband could say Kaddish. What better opportunity to have a live minyan to keep this very important mitzvah?
I stood back and watched this scene. Only moments ago, the world had seen a miracle of the signing of the accords. Yet as I watched the men pray on the very same lawn with the White House just yards away, I realized that this was the true Kiddush Hashem and another historic moment.
This scene of both the White House signing just moments before and holding a minyan on its grounds cemented not only the continued future for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, but concretized a moment that has endured centuries of Jewish life. I quickly took out my phone, and started filming and photographing this momentous moment.
This photo that went viral was my small addition to history. We live in special times. I am glad to have been a small part of it.
Karen Lehmann Eisner is an event planner who resides in New York City and Washington, D.C.
This column originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.