In My Own Words: Looking back at 2020 by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

When looking back at the first essay I wrote for this column in 2020, I almost laughed. The column wished a happy good-bye to 2019. At that time, I was glad to see the end of 2019 because of family problems, particularly the fact that my mother now lived in a nursing home. Little did I know how complicated things would become in a few months and how the rest of 2020 would play out.

I’ve been trying to keep a positive attitude this year, not easy since I’m a-glass-half-full kind of person. I remind myself over and over of the good things I have, but, although that helps in the long run, it’s hard sometimes in the short run. Some of my reactions were unexpected. For example, I found myself getting emotional over Hanukkah videos. (I mean, it’s great the kid gets his puppy, but why did I start crying at the end?) I know part of the problem is that I feel so tired and fatigue makes it difficult for me to cope. But add a pandemic (with COVID cases at my mom’s nursing home), a major snowstorm (during my first draft of this column, I was still waiting for my snow removal person to dig me out) and then computer problems (why wasn’t my main e-mail address working) and I was ready to cry.

Of course, most of those things were fairly easily fixed. By the time I started rewriting this column, the snow removal had taken place and my e-mail was working again. Even the latest news from my mom’s nursing home was better than it had been for weeks. I also reminded myself that, even during the worst of this time, I had heat, electricity and food. But the longer the pandemic goes on, the harder it is for us to remind ourselves how lucky we are. I think that’s the real cause of pandemic fatigue: people are just tired of focusing on the good things when they can’t do all the things they want to – and would normally – do.

This also was a difficult year for The Reporter. We went from having four full-time and one part-time staff to having one full-time person (me) and what should be four part-time staff. Unfortunately, our longtime advertising representative retired (and from her Facebook page, it looks like she’s enjoying retirement) and the person we hired to take her place left after less than two months. (By the way, if you know anyone who might be interested in the position, have them e-mail me at with advertising representative in the subject line.) The paper has gone to every other week, something that we needed to do to save money as advertising fell off during the pandemic. I consider us lucky: major Jewish papers (including the Forward and the Jewish Week) are now online papers only and others have closed completely.

Non-profit organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Binghamton, are worried about raising funds in a year when many people lost jobs and/or income. People who felt secure now realize how the most stable life can go awry when a pandemic hits. This doesn’t include those who work on the front lines and risk catching COVID every day. And there are the grieving families and friends of those who lost loved ones to this deadly disease. 
I am feeling hopeful that the vaccines will help to stop the spread of COVID. Unfortunately, that won’t happen immediately and it will take time for life to get back to normal. For some people, that will be a new normal as they learn either to live without a loved one or learn to live with the long-lasting effects of the disease (from brain fog to fatigue; heart, lung and brain damage; and loss of taste and smell). Actually, this may be a new normal for all of us because of what we have discovered about ourselves and the world over this long year. These are lessons we may not have wanted to learn, but, as I’ve realized over the years, these can be the most valuable ones.

There is no way to know what 2021 will hold. After all, no one at the end of 2019 would have predicted this particular version of 2020. But we can hope that, when we look back at 2021, we will only feel love and joy. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy secular new year.