Hidden Opportunities

“Bashana Haba’a”, Hebrew for “next year”, is the title of my favorite Rosh Hashanah song. Over this holiday season, I have been repeating the chorus in my head: “You will see how good it will be next year.”  It will be better next year when the pandemic passes. 

This year’s State of the Shul could focus on a long list of missed gatherings. COVID-19 has been devastating. When it hit, IJC transferred most of its activities online, but our Purim party, our Refugee Shabbaton, our Havdalah BBQ, and even the welcome Shabbat services to our graduating conversion class were cancelled.  Now, we just celebrated the High Holy Days, the pivotal moment in our faith, online.


Yet surprisingly, COVID-19 has offered us opportunities. IJC’s High Holy Day team succeeded in making the services warm, solemn and festive. Many hours were invested in planning and rehearsing. A new online Machzor was bought. Brian, Anneke and Marty prepared the slides over the summer. Jesse and Tereza partnered with videographer Alexandre Dechaumont to insure professional looking and sounding services.  Ilana offered her High Holy Day preparation classes. Together, this team created a beautiful sense of community - palpable in particular when we shared our memories of loved ones during the Yom Kippur Yizkor service. 

During confinement, I have learned valuable lessons. One is gratitude. Instead of focusing on losses and missed opportunities, I have been focusing on the good things. My family is in good health and has been spending more time together. I’m proud of the IJC’s resilience. Zoom has been a blessing in disguise, offering new opportunities for connection.

IJC Zoom has become our synagogue. We meet there more often than we ever have in-person. Our offerings have expanded from religious services to adult education and regular social gatherings. Even ex-members who have moved away from Brussels can connect. It’s comforting to know that we have such a strong and loyal diaspora community too. 

Looking ahead, we are starting to return to our Shul in person. While respecting pandemic precautions, we are planning a full year of activities. Some events, such as lectures and adult education classes, remain appropriate for online delivery and will stay on IJC Zoom. Services will be both in-person and virtual.  I look forward to the day when we can say the Kiddush prayers together again and taste Alexandra’s wonderful challah.  Until then, I’m planning not to despair about the disruption that this global crisis has caused, but will stay optimistic and look for all the hidden and new opportunities.

Anu Ristola

IJC President