Despite pandemic, Jewish St. Louisans find much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

This is a year when if you were to ask people what they are thankful for before Thanksgiving, they would have to dig real deep into the turkey and pull out the gizzards, heart and liver in order to come up with an answer, right?

Well, apparently Jews are familiar with suffering and understand how important it is to be grateful.

That’s what we found when we asked local Jews what was on their mind in advance of the holiday. We not only asked them what they were thankful for but also what the most challenging parts have been during a stretch that, on a societal level, has been the most difficult in a long time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. We hope that our interviewees’ thoughts resonate with you and contribute to a relaxing, enjoyable day.

(We will be sharing four more local Jews’ thoughts in a separate story tomorrowResponses have been edited for space.)

What has been the most challenging for you over the last year?

Emily Cherry, nurse practitioner in Barnes-Jewish Hospital department of urology, attends Congregation Temple Israel:

Everything has kind of been a challenge in terms of working and being a mother. Jack was 3-months-old when I went back to work, and a week later, the lockdown happened.

Cherry, her husband, Eddie, and their son, Jack, all recently became sick with COVID-19.

I would say that my husband and I are very fortunate that we have had moderate symptoms. My husband has a cough; my son has a cough, but luckily, we haven’t been too, too ill. It was definitely scary knowing that I had it and didn’t have symptoms at first. I developed loss of taste and smell five or six days after I had tested positive for the virus, so that was kind of interesting.

And I think the most scary thing was that my 11-month-old son tested positive. This whole eight months, we have been trying to avoid getting COVID and taken all the proper precautions, social distancing with friends, not being around too many people, and then of course, it happened that we got it, and it’s unfortunate, but luckily we aren’t too, too sick. And I feel very blessed that we haven’t had any hospitalizations or death because there are so many people who have been affected by this virus.

Michael Weinhaus, member of Congregation Shaare Emeth:

Weinhaus and his wife, Jane, were both hospitalized with the coronavirus this spring and spent time on ventilators in the intensive care unit of Missouri Baptist Hospital.

The most challenging part was surviving COVID-19. Within just a few days at the beginning of March, five members of my family were very sick from COVID-19. As parents, seeing your children sick breaks your heart. I cannot imagine what my children were feeling seeing their parents in an ICU for an extended period of time. I will never forget when I was admitted in the ICU passing by my wife, Jane’s, room. She was already on a ventilator, and I did not think I would ever see her again.

Our children recovered after two weeks in bed at their own homes. It has been a longer recovery process for both of us.

Nikki Goldstein, executive director of Gladys and Henry Crown Center for Senior Living, member of Traditional Congregation:

The most challenging parts have been not having normalcy and not being able to be with people in person. Thank God I haven’t been challenged by being ill or having a family member ill, but just this pall over everything has changed every experience, and I feel a sense of missing people.

Golda Cohen, b’nai mitzvah, Hebrew tutor, marketing for AW Health Care, member of Kol Rinah:

The inability to see family when we want to because my daughter lives in Chicago. We moved my son up East over the summer. It was the most miserable trip because we just drove there, spent the night, drove back, and he’s not coming home for the holidays. We don’t know when he’s coming back to St. Louis or when we are going to go there. We have had family b’nai mitzvah that we were unable to go to because it was in Maryland. We had a very small gathering in St. Louis for my nephew’s bar mitzvah, and just the inability to be with family has really been the most difficult.

Have there been any pleasant surprises during these difficult times? What are you thankful for?

Cherry: I am definitely thankful for our health and for getting to spend this holiday with my husband and my son. I feel like we have gotten to spend so much more time with him than we ever would have if this pandemic wasn’t going on.

Weinhaus: We have had pleasant surprises this year. Jane is back to work with her preschool Deutsch Early Childhood Center class at Temple Israel. This is her 28th year as a preschool teacher. We are just looking forward to the future and to welcoming two new grandchildren on their way before or just after the first of the year. That will be five grandchildren all under the age of 5. I returned in time to my passion: officiating a number of golf tournaments. Jane and I recently tested to see if we still have antibodies after eight months, and we still have them.

Goldstein: I have learned so much from other staff members about how to accommodate needed change and how to look at things differently, and I am really grateful to my colleagues for that. And I have also learned so much from our clients, particularly the residents because they are inspiring to me — their resilience and perspective and reassurance and appreciation have really kept me going when things seemed dreary.

They just have a lot of wisdom and have been through a lot in their own lives. Many have been through such horrible things. I can’t even imagine.

What is so interesting is that Brandeis University did a study, and there have been other studies about how older people overall are able to handle this pandemic and the isolation maybe better than younger generations because of their resiliency and because they are not starting new lives, they have a great perspective.

I think what has been so amazing is that whereas I may have thought that residents would react to Crown Center staff working remotely and not being on site, where we usually were visible and interacting with them all the time. I made a stupid assumption that they would think it was bad that we left, but they actually, again, so surprised me because so many separately said, ‘We don’t feel that we were abandoned; we feel that we were protected and that you were thinking of us.’ And that was a great insight.

Cohen: I had never heard of Zoom prior to all of this, so we have had Zoom family calls. I have talked to my brother and nieces and nephews on Zoom, and that is something that we had never done before this, so that side of it has been good.

I’m thankful for my health. I am thankful for my family’s health, and I am thankful for family because the support provided by family and friends is immeasurable, so I would say, thankful for the family and friends and the friends who are like family. When you say it’s a blessing, it is a real blessing.

Editor-in-chief Ellen Futterman contributed some information to this story.