There have been many worthwhile Shul focused movements that have come out of the Coronavirus: “Stop the Talking”, “Stop the Cell Phones”, and “Stop Talking to Your Friends Before Davening”. They all make sense after all, since nobody wants talking or cell phones going off during Shemoneh Esrai. But maybe after putting our lives on stop for so long, we need a different kind of movement. I’d like to offer an alternative, which I called the “Start the Connection” movement.
“Start the Connection” has two components, connecting to people and connecting to Hashem. When you enter your Shul focus on the fact that you’re here to connect. The first connection is to your fellow daveners. Smile at them. Your mask may cover your mouth, but they will detect the smile in your eyes. And the smile will enhance your connection towards them.
After the smile, ask someone how they’re doing. Or ask them how their day was. Listen to their response. Perhaps ask a follow up question. Feel and show your concern for them. It means a lot to people, especially after the isolation we’ve been experiencing for so many months.
If your minhag is never to talk in Shul, try to catch somebody before they enter. If your Shul is trying to impose new beyond-the-halacha prohibitions, speak to your Rav. Tell him you truly want to deepen your connections to your fellow Jews. Ask him whether the positive commandment of trying to Love Your Fellow Jew might possibly outweigh a newly imposed prohibition. Be prepared to lose this battle, but continue to try increasing your love and connection for your fellow Jew.
The connection to Hashem component has more inherent difficulties. We know our kavanna is probably not where we want it to be, and now the minyan is probably shorter and faster. The key here is to “start” the connection. Start small. During the Shema and during the first Brocha of Shemoneh Esrai, think about Hashem when you say His name. Think that He is the source of all existence, and that He is the master of all.
The “Start the Connection” movement has two simple suggestions: 1) Improving your connection to people when you see them, 2) Improving your connection to Hashem when you say His name. Please join us.