COVID Wins, COVID Awakenings…

By: Lisa Bodziner Executive Director, Towson University Hillel

One year ago, my life was completely scheduled to the tee. Wake up. Get kids ready. Lunches, extra clothes, water bottles, blankets—all packed up, let’s go! Ten-minute drive to drop off and then off to work. (Check emails 10 times before arrival, but never while driving!).

At work, we were all soaring. Staff, students, board, donors; the University making it clear with the promise that this would be the strongest year yet for Towson Hillel and our University. In 2019/20 we had our highest number of social engagements: 270 events (before March) and 1,368 one-on-one unique interactions. We reached 40% of the Jewish student population (breadth) and had 6+ touchpoints with 10% of the Jewish student population (depth). Life was incredibly busy, some would say unhealthy, but everything was GREAT.

Yesterday, the morning started with my 4-year-old declaring, “I’ve done two nice things, Ima (Hebrew for mother). I helped Lila and sang Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star to Bella during her nap.” My husband had to get a COVID test; the kids couldn’t be sent to school; our staff retreat was postponed.

And so. The kids and our new puppy were at home with Ima for the day; another day in quarantine. How did I do this for seven months? How did any of us do it? The stress is real.

In a moment of reflection, I dare say out loud that this year has also been unbelievable.  

I’ve been privileged. I’ve had moments with my kids I know I wouldn’t have had—and will not have again. Mornings at home, all of us in our pajamas WAY past seven in the morning, have been magical.

Whether you are a working mom, an essential employee, first line worker, in fact, no matter who you are, you know— we all know— the past nine months have been hard to put into words. I’ve wanted to be a COVID champion. I have wanted to achieve a healthy work-family life balance (while excelling, of course); staying safe (yet still carving out a social life); making more time for exercise; walking the new puppy (yup, we, too, joined the COVID trend!). 

Despite the challenges inherent in championing a life during COVID, my mind wanders ahead and wonders: How will I use what I’ve learned from my COVID life when everything returns to normal?

Although our numbers look different from what we would have expected for Towson Hillel this year, our students’ stories have moved staff and board members to tears: Students needing community, specifically ours, in dire times; a student sharing she said “Shema” for the first time in one of our learning sessions. Our staff have been ignited because of our personal interactions with students, one by one, not by the hundreds.

Now that we all have our COVID wins, what happens in the future, with COVID behind us?

Once Zoom dog walks and virtual coffee dates with students are no longer a need, how are we going to move into the future? How will this year’s discoveries influence next year’s thinking?

I want to slow down. I want to create a new life, a new rhythm for my family and me.

I’ve been asking myself:

On a personal level, do I want my life to return to the (unhealthy) craze, never catching a breath and wondering how my kids grew up so quickly? On a professional one, should we continue to run after increased numbers as the best way to measure our success?

Or should we focus more on coffee dates and other one-on-one experiences, deepening relationships with our students, learning how he or she is really doing and finding out what it is we at Hillel can do to help?  Maybe it’s about finding a better balance between the two?

While making matzah ball soup and chicken salad (simultaneously), tending to children (and the new puppy) and participating in a Zoom work call (in my pajamas) I ask myself, what now, is even more sacred about home life, work, and family?

Of course, it’s the why. That’s what we at Hillel address every day. But maybe it’s also the how. How we do what we do. Maybe having worked to create more balance, because I’ve had to, I understand how necessary, how much healthier, it is.

Throughout his work, Rambam (Maimonides) stresses the importance of balance in different areas of one’s life – in action, emotion, and thought. Balance (or Tiferet, in Hebrew) is a condition of one’s ideal service of G-d and a core strength for leadership.

I wish for us all in this new year of 2021 we are able to achieve the greatness we aspire to. That we become champions of joy, health, successful work, and balance in all we do— and maybe even zooming in our pajamas from time to time in 2021! 

Lisa Bodziner: Mom, Wife, Executive Director and Human Striving to Achieve Balance

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