Despite pandemic, St. Louis Jews remain thankful this Thanksgiving

James Goldwasser

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 shared four other local Jews’ responses yesterday. Read that story hereResponses have been edited for space.)

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

Jim Goldwasser, social studies teacher at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, belongs to Congregation Temple Israel: 

Personally, I have had a great deal of anxiety over the possibility of my family becoming infected with the coronavirus — specifically my son who is in remission from leukemia. There was also my daughter starting college six hours away from home in the middle of a pandemic. 

This is my 24th year teaching and switching to teaching through Zoom has been a huge challenge. I have the same content to teach but have 50% less contact time with students. I have had to rework every lesson, learn new technology, and try to assess whether students have learned the material virtually.  

Patty Herzog, real estate agent: 

With the pandemic comes the need to be willing to find new ways to do things. I miss not being able to hang with friends and family in the same way as pre-COVID. The way I conduct my business has also had to change. Not being able to travel has also been frustrating. Being able to celebrate life events in person is no longer the go-to option. Thank goodness for platforms like Zoom and Skype.

Ellen Schapiro, retired preschool director, member of Congregation B’nai Amoona:

I think the most challenging has been not being able to get together freely with family and friends. I think that really is hard. And worrying about everyone’s safety — that’s a big thing also. And not being able to be there for family and friends when they might need it.

Cantor-Rabbi Ron Eichaker, United Hebrew Congregation:

The most challenging part has been staying ahead of the pandemic personally, familiarly and professionally. As one over age 60, it was clear from the beginning that contraction could be dangerous and/or deadly. My wife Heidi and I had to shutter in, close our sphere of access to life’s necessities and make assessments as to what we would need to weather the challenges. We have been fortunate that both of our daughters, Lauren and Linsday, are in health care and research.

Lauren had warned us of this pandemic and its unprecedented challenges in this country in early January. She also told us, then, that we would have to be keenly protective until the fall of 2022.

She has been spot on with that revelation. Lindsay has been on the frontlines and has given us daily updates on the local and regional front.

Professionally, I have tried to advise the congregation since February. I was aware that we would be closing the building to gatherings and looked ahead to the High Holy Days and beyond. We were well prepared for whatever happened, as I was prepared for the worst and accepted the best.

For now, the biggest challenge is keeping everyone focused on the immediate and not worrying about the near future. Laxity at this time may not allow for a future for our members and the community.

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

Goldwasser: I have enjoyed the extra time I have been able to spend with my wife and children. I drove my daughter to Portland, Ore., this summer to visit her boyfriend. I was able to spend 30 hours in a car with my daughter just as she is about to start life on her own. I will always treasure the trip.

I am thankful for my wife. We have never spent this much time together for such an extended time. She is able to give me perspective in these trying times. I am thankful for my family and friends. We have grown closer together throughout the pandemic.

Herzog: I often say there have been so many blessings that COVID has brought to me. I get to spend more time with my closest family and friends. I focus on what’s truly important to me right now, which is to find time once a week to Zoom with my oldest and dearest group of friends. We started with happy hours and brunches, and now whenever we need some girlfriend time, we get online. I’m actually connecting more frequently than pre-pandemic.

Cooking at home. My son Jesse Zvibleman is an amazing cook. He has created some pretty incredible meals for us that are healthy and better than most restaurants.

I am thankful for my kids and grandkids.

Schapiro: I think the pandemic has caused us to slow down. You can’t run around and see this movie or this person speak, so you had to be more thoughtful about what was important and worth running around for. 

Of course now, everything is on Zoom, so you can hear this speaker or attend this lecture on Zoom.

I liked seeing everyone get outside more and take advantage of walking and appreciating the outdoors, and I liked that for myself too. 

I am thankful that I am healthy and that I can get outside and walk and appreciate my surroundings and that I feel good, and I am very thankful that my friends and family are also right now, knock on wood, healthy.

Eichaker: There have been many pleasant surprises though I anticipated many of these outcomes early on. We have been able to reach out to every member of the congregation and continue communicating.

In anticipation of the locking down of programming, I and all of our staff created and rolled out programs and services that have been met with enthusiasm. Next Week Now has become a popular time for members and has almost become traditional even though we only began it in April. Educational programming has grown exponentially, and participation has tripled since March. The leadership now understands the power of virtual outreach.

I am always thankful for United Hebrew — its members, colleagues and leaders. As a family, we express our gratitude for UH first every year. I am also grateful for the technology that has brought our family closer together and has created new traditions moving forward.

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