By Eric Schucht
As 2020 comes to a close, many people are reflecting on the historic and unprecedented year. We wanted to know people’s thoughts about 2020, what they learned about themselves over the year and how they’ve changed. Here are some answers.
Eyal Bor, 63, is the director of education at Beth El Congregation of Baltimore, a musician and an instructor at Towson University. He lives in Baltimore:
I shifted all our classes on Zoom, except for one program. And what was so impressive to me, is that people in their late 60s, 70s, 80s and more were so adaptable to that change. I think the miracle of getting out of the fear of computers, technology has made those people liberated. They become liberated because they’re able to attend classes on Zoom. The fear of computers is gone. The fear of technology is gone.
I learned how to use computer teaching long distance. It’s not the regular online teaching. It’s much more than that. You know, I teach Hebrew. To teach Hebrew online is much harder to do than teaching a philosophy or political science course. Hebrew has vowels, letters, syllables. But I learned how to be a better teacher using online, which I’d never done before. So I learned that, even in my age, you’re adaptable.
By day, Anna Sellheim, 33, of Baltimore works as an administrative assistant/scheduler at a tree removal service. At night she pursues her passion as an indie comic artist:
This is a pivotal year in my life. And I think it’s a pivotal year on the planet, just because everybody is affected by COVID. My personal life has changed, and a big part of that is because everybody has to slow down with COVID. I feel like I figure myself out more and more each year. The last few years I’ve really been working on myself and getting my act together. But I think the reason this year has been one of the biggest is because we all were forced to slow down, right? I was forced to stop and just be with myself. And when you’re with yourself, and you’re not totally maxed out doing all the things, you realize, like, Oh, I got work to do.
Alan Smith, 61, of Pikesville is the owner of Lenny’s Deli. He’s a member of Beth El Congregation of Baltimore:
Well, my dad passed away in October 2019. And, of course, we all said, “Gosh, let’s hope 2020 is better.” But it wasn’t much better.
What did I learn? I learned that things can be taken away in a second. That you can’t take anything for granted. I mean, nobody saw this coming. A lot of people lost family members or their own lives. And you just got to get up every day and do the best you can, but there’s no guarantees in life. And this really showed that you have to appreciate everything you do have, even if you don’t have everything you might want, what you have is something that you should appreciate.
Lauren Liss Bogart, 53, of Gaithersburg, is author of the children’s book “Memories of a Weird Year: A Journal of My Life During the Coronavirus Pandemic.” She’s a member of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville:
The pandemic has reinforced the Yiddish saying that we plan and God laughs. As a family, we had so many great plans for 2020. This year taught me that it’s OK to slow down and relish the simple pleasures in life like going on a hike or a walk with loved ones. Doing Zoom yoga or baking challahs with my kids.
I know once we’re all vaccinated and things return to normal, I’ll look back at this time period with gratitude for the quality bonding that’s taken place. There’s a certain calm to be gained by stepping off the hamster wheel of our normal day-to-day lives. I’ve learned that feeling productive doesn’t mean running around like a chicken with your head cut off. And I’ve learned that there’s a sense of calm that can come from quality moments with your loved ones.
Rabbi Chaim Levi Cohen, 30, of Ashburn is the co-director of Chabad of Loudoun County:
I would say 2020 was a challenging year. But I do believe in the Torah. I am a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. And he taught us that in every situation we should try to look out for what perhaps is a silver lining behind it, what perhaps may be a benefit coming out of a tragedy. 2020 brought us a magnifying glass on what the essentials are in life. And when we were all in quarantine, what that does to the human brain is it really strips away the externals. It strips away the flowery external stuff on what life is about. The rat race. The peer pressure. Perhaps the ability to look at other people as others. All of that is stripped away when we are all in the same boat. We’re all in it together. And that is reassuring, and gives people a certain degree of comfort.
Maxine Grossman, 52, of Silver Spring, is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Maryland. She’s a member of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase:
The first part of 2020 was learning about how we respond in emergency crisis circumstances. And I think the big challenge was the shift to thinking about a new normal. And we’re not there yet. But I think the big question is how we go forward in a world that’s not exactly changed, but where a lot of familiar things are revealed to be not what we thought they were. I learned that I crave aloneness and silence. I don’t think I have been alone for more than an hour since March. There are four of us living in a not huge house. My kids are amazing, and fabulous. But they’re also bored. And they don’t stop talking if they’re awake unless they’re on screens. I know a lot of people who are lonely and bored and exhausted. But I also know a lot of people who are overwhelmed at the filters of human communication.
Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser, 47, sells Judaica under the name Devotaj Sacred Arts and works in marketing/advertising. She lives in Washington, D.C.:
This has been a year that has really clarified what’s really important to me and what isn’t. [Because] having everything that seemed normal, flipped on end and then having to figure out what you’re going to do.
I’ve always considered myself to be resilient. I’ve always considered myself somebody who grappled with change well, who handles reality well. And I’m having to do all those things in really different ways than I might have. I’m also very introverted. Being at home is a fundamentally OK thing for me, but I do miss people occasionally. I think that’s new for me. I usually tire of being around people and now I miss people.
Gregg Linzey, 34, of Alexandria owns Chewish Deli. In March, he launched a food truck and later in the year opened a brick and mortar restaurant in downtown Alexandria:
I actually had a lot of growth throughout the year, on my part, both personally and professionally. This year has definitely taught me how to adapt a lot better to different situations and really pushed me to pivot a little more. In other years, when things are more status quo, you have some more time to think and plan. Obviously, we’re cautious this year from a health standpoint, but this year, at least for me, sped a lot of things up and pushed me to be able to be flexible, adapt and move quicker and learn quicker, just because of how fast everything just kept changing throughout the year.
David Schoenbaum, 85, of Rockville is an author and historian. He’s a member of B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville:
Clearly we’re dealing with a kind of a year that people will remember with numbers, like 1776, 1789, 1848, 1929. The kind of year people remember and write books about. Millions of people are living in the kind of misery, say, something like the Great Depression. And there are others who are, for the most part, living comfortably and in fact doing well. I am aware, uncomfortably aware, that my wife and I, through no particular virtue, are extraordinarily lucky. I don’t have to leave the house, which is not necessarily a good thing. My health is OK. My economic situation is OK. My mental health is getting creaky because every day is like every other day. And, if we’re not already there, we’re on the threshold of a kind of Grand Canyon of mental health problems.