It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review. Like a long while. But this pandemic is certainly a time to start doing new/old things, so here I am, bringing you a review of a book that is both something that we are all too familiar with and at the same time, takes us back to those confusing, overwhelming early days of the pandemic when we didn’t know what to expect and everything was completely unsettling.
It’s still kind of that way, but we’re more used to it now. You can really get used to almost anything. It’s both encouraging and terrifying.
Chaya Passow sounds like someone I’d love to get to know. A graduate of Stern College, she majored in English Literature and taught English at Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem. She is also a multi-faceted women who is a sought-after lecturer on an array of topics, has experience as a small-business executive and has taught Jewish studies on the elementary school level. She’s lived in Israel since 2002 and is fortunate to live in Jerusalem.
It’s with this life experience that she brings her collection of seventy letters that she wrote in real time as the pandemic began unfolding.
When everything started, you know, stopping, Passow began sending out missives as a sort of catharsis, her own unique way of coping with the ever-changing reality, of reflecting on each new development or frustration. She peppers her letters with wide-ranging references from Tanach to pop culture.
The most consistent thread through her letters was her commitment to finding opportunities for growth despite the frustrations and monotony of the pandemic.
What a treasure to have this collection of letters to give us an idea of what it was like to experience on a day to day basis. Some of the letters are straight-forward accounts of what Passow was feeling and struggling with, others are more creativity written, using imagination to “visit” the offices of the Planet Corona, and using cute plays on words. Indeed, the entire collection of letters is ostensibly written as if from another planet, viewing the pandemic as not just a historical event, but as an entirely different world.
Even with that charming premise, and with her admirable dedication to growth and searching for meaning within this particular challenge, I still felt the emotional weight that comes with living through a time like this, with its uncertainties, its constantly changing landscape and its many forms of loss.
I preferred to read the letters in small bursts, not going through the book straight from start to finish. It gave me time to process both Passow’s experience and the inevitable remembering of my own experiences which were provoked by reading her letters.
It was a curious experience, reading about the beginning of the pandemic when we are still stuck inside the same pandemic, albeit with some hope now with the vaccine being more readily available.
My favorite letter was actually one that wasn’t originally intended to be included, but I’m glad that Passow chose to include it because it ended the book off on such a lovely note.
While the book is written from the perspective of a frum Jew living in Israel, it is certainly accessible to a broader audience, as Passow explains terms that may not be familiar to everyone.
That’s my take on this book! Let me know what you think after you’ve read it, or if you had any creative coping mechanism to deal with the pandemic, like Passow did.