Open Letter: Bozeman Rabbi’s Message to His Daughter
With Christians set to celebrate Easter, and Jews set to celebrate the Passover here in the midst of this coronavirus crisis, I thought- "Hey, I should reach out to our friend Rabbi Chaim in Bozeman and see what he'd like to share for our listeners."
"Would have to be today!" The rabbi told me. "Can’t do technology next three days." Rabbi Chaim Bruk leads the synagogue in Bozeman, Montana. During Passover the rabbi refrains from using technology, so he joined us on Wednesday's Montana Talks radio show.
The rabbi shared some great wisdom and insight during the midst of this coronavirus crisis. He also told us about a letter that he penned for his two year old little girl, so that one day she can look back on this Passover and know what her father learned amidst the sacrifice and the turmoil.
The full letter is below. Here's one of the highlights:
Gratefulness is an important virtue, but for the first time that I can remember, we’re not only expressing our gratitude to the incredible health care workers on the front lines, the law enforcement officers keeping the peace, the teachers who are devoted to teaching our children remotely and the soldiers protecting the homeland; we’re grateful for the grocery workers, for the delivery services, for the truckers, for the pilots and flight attendants, for the janitors and garbage collectors and so many others. As a society, we finally realize that too many of the people we’ve “poo-pooed” are more essential to our well-being than those we’ve held on a pedestal for far too long.
He also added that this Passover, there will be no "sermonizing," no guests at the synagogue and around the dinner table. Instead it will "just be Chaim, a husband, a dad and an individual who too, can, and should, experience self-reflection and internal freedom. Each of us will be focused inwards and the results for our future and the future of humanity, I believe, will be transformative. For the next three days, we will have no phone or internet, no conference calls or classes, no grocery shopping or “Tatzah delivery”; it will be us, just our raw authentic self."
Audio of Rabbi Chaim on "Montana Talks"with Aaron Flint:
FULL LETTER FROM THE RABBI TO HIS DAUGHTER
By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
Dear Chana Laya,
Although you’re only two years old, I am taking a few minutes during this most hectic Erev Pesach to put pen to paper to share with you my feelings. Though you won’t understand this until you’re a bit older, I want you to know how I felt in real time, so perhaps the feeling will come through even a few years down the road and give you a glimpse into this historic period.
We are just hours away from the Seder, the night of all nights, as we sanctify the holy holiday of Passover on a royal cup of wine, ushering in freedom. The last few weeks have been surreal and as I spend so much time with you, I’m envious of you and all the children your age. I look at you every day, running around, smiling, being mischievous, increasing your vocabulary and you’re blissfully, innocently, ignorant of the Covid-19 chaos around us.
You won’t remember missing your Montessori class or your speech therapy sessions, you won’t remember the hours you spent in the car with me delivering “Tatzah”, you won’t remember the anxiety I was experiencing about my relatives in New York, including Zayde, and what this dreaded disease could do to our beloved Bozeman community.
I’m glad you won’t.
You live life in the moment, enjoying every breath of Big Sky Country fresh air and I’m jealous.
Yet, I feel like you should know some of the good things we learned during this time of isolation and stress and the incredible energies we tapped into. So dearest Chana Laya, allow me to share with you some invaluable lessons I learned in the month between Purim and Pesach of 2020:
Who’s the boss: During this period, every country on earth from Russia to Denmark, Israel to our beloved United States struggled with this deadly disease. It didn’t matter where you ranked on the “superpower” list or your financial ranking with the IMF; we were all plagued, equally. We were all forced to recognize that G-d runs the show and when we say on Yom Kippur “Mi Bamageifa - who by pestilence” we now know that indeed Hashem can make that a sad reality even in the most modern of times and civilized of countries. We learned this the hard way, but we mustn’t ever underestimate our Creator.
Gratitude: Gratefulness is an important virtue, but for the first time that I can remember, we’re not only expressing our gratitude to the incredible health care workers on the front lines, the law enforcement officers keeping the peace, the teachers who are devoted to teaching our children remotely and the soldiers protecting the homeland; we’re grateful for the grocery workers, for the delivery services, for the truckers, for the pilots and flight attendants, for the janitors and garbage collectors and so many others. As a society, we finally realize that too many of the people we’ve “poo-pooed” are more essential to our well-being than those we’ve held on a pedestal for far too long.
Home: Sports, prayer, movies, meals, drinks, fun; sadly, we’ve come to believe that those things need to take place at arenas, stadiums, Synagogues, theaters, restaurants, bars and “anywhere else”. Covid-19 came along and reminded me the ancient Jewish value of “home sweet home”. Life’s anchor, the foundation of our mental/emotional/spiritual wellbeing is created and solidified in a healthy home. Instead of watching football, play it with your child. Instead of sitting in a fancy eatery, make a meal with the kids over your shoulder and when the ketchup splatters all over your shirt during dinner, get a good family laugh. Sit down with your kids and watch Marry Poppins or Uncle Moishy, even if it bores you, the parent, to death, and instead of drinking with your “friends”, have a glass of wine with your spouse and enjoy each other’s company.
Family: Families are complicated and large ones even more so. Yet, for me, the past few weeks has included so much prayer for my relatives. First and foremost, I davened for Zayde, my beloved father, but also for his brothers Areleh (who still needs a big miracle as I write this), Shmulik and Chaim Shaul who have since recovered by the grace of G-d. My aunt Kraindy and cousin Shloime, my aunts Rochel Leah and Blumie and many others needed G-d’s mercy and though I’m physically distant, my heart was with them at home and at the ICU. It was scaryChana Laya, and it was amazing to know, that deep in my heart family is family, and there’s a part of my essence that will always love them and care for them deeply.
Government: I am not big fan of “big brother” sticking their “Pinocchio noses” into everyone’s business, yet, this past month showed me a different side of “politicians”. During all the bickering and fighting, our politicians set aside their differences, for the most part, and worked diligently together for their fellow Americans. Being in a leadership role, whether President, Governor, Senator, Congressman, Mayor, health Dept. official or any other political official, during this era, means having many sleepless nights. The non-stop meetings and strategy to figure out a plan of instructions, school closings, bringing home citizens stranded abroad, closing national parks; it’s a lot and it’s not easy. For a change, I am blown away by the devotion of our leaders and give credit where credit is due.
Last thing Chana Laya dear, when you read this in 2025 or so, I want you to know about Pesach 5780 (2020):
Initially, I was worried heading into the holiday that having just our family around the table will be boring and lonely. We aren’t used to celebrating anything without our beloved Jewish community. Yet, as we get closer and closer to the holy moments of the Seder, I am beginning to feel really good about it. I think Hashem is asking each of us to stay at home, take care of ourselves from the inside out. He is asking me to give up my rabbi title for one holiday, no sermonizing no Torah Reading/Chazzan’ing; just be Chaim, a husband, a dad and an individual who too, can, and should, experience self-reflection and internal freedom. Each of us will be focused inwards and the results for our future and the future of humanity, I believe, will be transformative. For the next three days, we will have no phone or internet, no conference calls or classes, no grocery shopping or “Tatzah delivery”; it will be us, just our raw authentic self.
As you get older Chana Laya dear, I am sure your siblings will share with you how it was during “Corona”. Menny will tell you how much he missed his friends, Chaya will tell you how much she missed Yenting at the Shabbos table with the guests and Zeesy will tell you how much she missed school. For mom and I this is a very hard holiday, as your dear sister Shoshana, our beloved oldest, who was supposed to be home for Pesach, is in school lockdown in Utah and won’t be with us. She has everything she needs for Yom Tov and we are all making do with the reality, but we miss her so much and a part of me is broken in her absence. You will hear many stories about this time, both positive and negative, but I truly think the outcome will be a better nation.
As I sit at the Seder, I will listen to the four of you recite the Ma Nishtana, I will pause for a moment to telepathically listen to Shoshana’s Ma Nishtana and then I will tell you the answer, the most incredible response to the eternal Jewish question of “Why are we different” and “why is tonight different”: We were slaves, we suffered and we still suffer on occasion, but our incredible Creator redeemed us and He will do it again soon; Jerusalem here we come!
Sweetie, when you read this, it’s my hope that we will have been long time residents of Jerusalem and you, along with my mom, the Chana Leah you’re named for, will be celebrating Pesach in a plague free world! Mashiach baby!
Love you forever my little girl,
May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!