The saying “in every crisis there is opportunity” typifies where the Center for Contemporary Mussar finds itself today. The twin crises confronting our nation – the Coronavirus pandemic and the reckoning of racial inequities as a public health crisis – along with our personal tragedy with the loss of our beloved founding chair, Linda Kriger, make Mussar all the more necessary on a personal and societal level. We are all searching for ways to achieve Menuchat Ha-Nefesh/Equanimity to help us to ascertain our priorities, Savlanut/patience and Chesed/Compassion to bear all of the suffering we see around us, along with our own pain, and Zerizut/Zeal to inspire us to action.
Fortunately, CCM was well poised to answer this call. Our experience in distance learning was already robust and we were able to pivot to all-virtual learning without missing a beat. We have classes based in Philadelphia and on the West Coast to accommodate students in various time zones, and we now enroll students from as far away as Sweden and Hawaii, as well as Canada and states throughout the US.
Crisis also ushers in necessary change. I pray and hope that we will see change in our health care system, our criminal justice system, and other institutions that have perpetuated racism and injustice in our society. For CCM, some changes include leaving our new shared office space at the Friends Center in Philadelphia, where we were in residence for one week in March before COVID shut the building down. Our new administrator, Isha Strasser, has been working from home (and doing an excellent job even though we were only able to meet in person once before we were quarantined). We are grateful to our Madricha and Board Member Carol Daniels, who was Linda Kriger’s long-time chevrutah and teaching partner, and has taken on Linda’s 3rd year va’ad in addition to her already full teaching schedule.
The pandemic has challenged us to find new ways of bringing close those from whom we must remain physically distant. Nearly every night at dinner time, I read storybooks to my young granddaughters via video-chat, keeping them company so their mother (my daughter) can get things done. Today, my 4-year-old granddaughter Hannah needed a “Grammy Day” and we spent 4 hours on Facetime together. I was working, sewing and returning emails while Hannah played with blocks and playdough, and painted her self portrait, as we checked in with each other constantly on color preferences for her artwork and my face masks. It was not quite the same as being together, but it was a treasured time nonetheless. A screen can be seen either as a barrier or a conduit for expressing love, and Mussar has taught me to be present to my closest others however and wherever they show up in my life.
I hope you will join us in two special upcoming virtual gatherings. On July 22 at 7 pm EDT we will be honoring Linda and her 2020 graduating va’ad by commemorating her life and contributions to CCM. Rabbi Stone will be offering a special teaching in Linda’s honor. All are welcome. Mark your calendars for “Preparing Our Souls for the High Holy Days,” a 6-part virtual workshop series offered by members of the CCM Rabbinic Advisory Group, starting on Wednesday, August 12 at 8 – 9 pm EDT.