Coronavirus Purim: Lessons learned from the pandemic - opinion

The contrast between this Purim and last couldn’t be more pronounced.

PURIM MAY be all about simcha, but happiness may be elusive for a lot of us this year. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
PURIM MAY be all about simcha, but happiness may be elusive for a lot of us this year.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
 You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that Purim this year is going to be very different than usual.
Normally, it’s tough to deal with the shortened day when Purim falls out on a Friday, but things are already a far cry from the status quo this year. The usual groups of dancing yeshiva boys in colorful costumes won’t be going door to door spreading simcha as they collect money for the institutions of higher learning in most communities. Large Purim mesibot, some of which have a history going back multiple decades, have been canceled and the simple act of giving mishloach manos has become a complicated matter for those who are still socially isolated because of COVID.
The contrast between this Purim and last couldn’t be more pronounced.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full year since the pandemic hit. Many of us are marking our first anniversary of having come down with COVID and worse yet, far too many people will be observing the yahrtzeits of loved ones whose lives were lost to an unseen enemy. For just about all of us, Purim 2020 was that line in the sand, that last hurrah between life as we knew it and having our world turned completely upside down and as I scroll through the pictures on my phone, those costumed photos of my kids are the last ones I took before life as we knew it ceased to exist.
Remember when the first quarantines were imposed, how unthinkable it was that there were people who would have to stay home from megilla and kids whose Purims were about to be completely torpedoed? Having experienced every single yom tov pandemic-style, that idea seems almost laughable. We’ve had a year of solo Pesach sedarim, driveway weddings and a never-ending barrage of schools, shuls and businesses opening and closing at the drop of the hat. It’s a new normal, and I daresay it’s a normal that none of us want. Purim may be all about simcha, but happiness may be elusive for a lot of us this year.
Dealing as we do in mental health, addiction and abuse, we have seen firsthand at Amudim just how incredibly difficult things have been since the pandemic hit. We opened up a total of 2,652 new cases from Purim 2020 through today, almost exactly double the number of cases we opened over the same time period one year earlier. But despite those daunting statistics, we’ve all learned a lot over the past 12 months, giving all of us an opportunity to walk a few miles in the shoes of those who struggle with mental health issues. We have all faced anxiety, insecurity, isolation and very real fears about our well-being on multiple levels and are seeing for ourselves just how daunting life can be when the unthinkable happens. With obstacles and restrictions thrown in our way, we have had to reimagine so many aspects of our lives that we used to take for granted so that we can keep going day by day. It’s been tough.  But we’ve been doing it and we’re going to keep going for as long as it takes.  
THAT RESILIENCE is something that we see on a daily basis on Amudim, as we watch people who reach out to us with the worst of the worst rebuilding their lives one step at a time. It takes hard work, dedication and a boatload of perseverance, but having witnessed our case managers helping their clients pull themselves up from even the most difficult of circumstances reminds us all that we can get through this too.
As we come face to face with Purim, we all need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that this past year has taught us just how resilient we are. Despite the inconvenience and the annoyance factor, I urge you to exercise extra vigilance and avoid large gatherings so that we don’t have a rerun of last year and create potentially significant health issues. And as always, please remember that if you offer someone a l’chaim and they say no, not to push the issue – you never know who may be facing sobriety issues and we have seen all too often that Purim can be a potential minefield of dangers for those who are dealing with addiction.
So while we may be facing a masked and socially distant Purim, one which will certainly be more muted than in previous years, let us take advantage of an opportunity to fill the day with joy. Let’s all keep that momentum going as we look ahead to the days that follow, using that same inner strength to keep our lives, and the lives of those around us who may be struggling, heading in positive directions during these challenging times.
The writer is the CEO of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 21 years. For more information, go to