“Yesterday at 5 in the afternoon, we went with Mom to the grocery store, and on the way we saw that our kindergarten was closed. The swings standing between the tall trees, and the flowers seem so small and faded, because our kindergarten was closed…It isn’t very nice to see our kindergarten closed…” Every Israeli child born in and after the 1970’s knows by heart, like the National Anthem, the words to this Hebrew song, “A Closed Kindergarten,” by the Israeli poet, Jonathan Geffen. The kids that were used to seeing their kindergarten full of life never saw it sleeping. The children, not used to seeing their kindergarten in the afternoon, are surprised to see it so lifeless, even when they know it’ll be open again in the morning.
In Israel, of course, there have been various reasons over the years for schools to close, and not simply for the evening. Now, many children around the world share this notion. The closed kindergarten has become a metaphor for imagining new angles and new perspectives, in people, in places, in life.
Every time I pass by our shuttered synagogue, I think about this song. When stores or businesses renovate and put a sign, “Temporarily out of service” or “Forgive our appearance while we renovate,” they mean to say that it’s temporary, that we’ll be back better and stronger. This is only a sleep, a rest, a break — a necessary phase in any place that wants to grow. Even our bodies will get tired at certain points, and we will have to sleep.
We are in the season of reading about the Shmita, the 7th year of sabbatical for the land, and the Jubilee, the 50th year of an overall cessation in the land, a forgiving of debts, a time of reflection, and Cheshbon Hanefesh, a soul searching self-examination. Counting the 49 days of the Omer and resting on the 50th to receive the revelation of the law in Sinai on Shavuot is a similar process. It is such a monumental event that it requires a break, a time for contemplation.
But life continues in some capacity, even while access to the kindergarten, the school, or the shul is unattainable. In our case, we are maintaining all of our scheduled rituals, classes, and meetings, albeit virtually. This is actually what the Jewish people have been doing for the last 2,000 years. Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, we have been keeping a “virtual Temple” through “placeholders” of mitzvoth and rituals. Some mitzvoth that are Temple-bound, such as the sacrifices, or mitzvoth that are land-bound, such as Shmita, were still recognized through prayers and counting, despite the absence of the Temple and exile from the land. It was as if to say, “We are closed for renovation and self-reflection, but we will return one day.”
To redeem the situation and the sacrifice we are making during shutdown, we need to recognize the new opportunities that this time presents. The reality afterward needs to be much better, not just simply a return to “normal.” This year, for instance, most likely we will hold High Holiday services virtually. This provides an opportunity to customize our High Holidays, perhaps share them with more people around the world. The building is closed, but the whole world has opened. We can start to begin again. Imagine.
Being out of service is not always bad. Out of service is the Shabbat that gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate and to begin anew. “In the beginning…,” like another famous start, it was chaos, a long period of incredibility, and then a new world was created. In his collection of songs titled The Sixteenth Lamb, which includes “A Closed Kindergarten,” Jonathan Geffen also wrote “How is a Song Born?” And he concludes, “…like a newborn baby, in the beginning it hurts, then it comes out, and everyone is happy…”
Chodesh Tov and Chag Shavuot Sameach.
—Rabbi Gadi Capela