Reflect on the Pandemic with a Well-Known Community Elder

Rabbi Siegel, left, with Rabbi Hillel Baron, right
Rabbi Siegel, left, with Rabbi Hillel Baron, right, as Baron asks him the names of family members for a prayer during a visit Aug. 28 (Carolyn Conte)

Rabbi Martin Siegel of Howard County, a retired national figure, is teaching a class that reflects on the pandemic. Siegel’s class, “Hebrew Purpose in the Corona Pandemic,” is available on Zoom through the Jewish Federation of Howard County on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 4:30 p.m.

Siegel is glad to focus on small classes like this and to have moved past his 15 minutes of fame — “It was so intrusive,” he said of his time in the national spotlight with appearances on the Today Show and in New York Magazine. Instead, he prefers to enjoy the small town culture of Howard County.

“Everyone knows everyone here, I’ve watched everyone grow up,” said Siegel, who is in his late 80s.

About 20 people attend his free class, which teaches Hasidic philosophy and the concept of a new era’s emergence after the pandemic. Siegel, who has a background in philosophy and Hasidic studies, shares the idea of a noosphere in the class. This concept, in brief, is the idea that change must be sudden.

“The pandemic is a noosphere. It brings consequences and can teach people a new consciousness,” Siegel said. “It has created a new openness to the unknown. The pandemic taught us how quickly we communicate, and how quickly things change, and how much we don’t and can’t know.”

He listed the printing press as a previous noosphere, because it revolutionized society’s capabilities to learn.

“We’ve realized we have this universal vulnerability,” Siegel said. “This worldwide threat brings a degree of humility. Science, which was the new god that people worshiped, has proven it cannot deal with [the pandemic]. There is a phrase that the old gods have fled and the new gods are coming, and this describes this time period.” Siegel believes the new gods, ironically, are now the old gods, or God.

The class will also offer an opportunity to reflect on how the pandemic brings society back to the most original, universally shared and sincere form of worship: love.

“This tragedy is a way to renew our religion and deepen it,” Siegel said. “We can rediscover our purpose and religion through this pandemic. I want to discover why I was born.”

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