July 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 15, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

‘Letters From Planet Corona’ Says It Like It Is

Reviewing: “Letter From Planet Corona” by Chaya Passow. City of Gold Press. 2020. English. Paperback. 239 pages. ISBN-13: 978-9655994056.

Chaya Passow is part of the Baby Boomer generation. She resides on a lovely, quiet street in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem with her husband, Dr. Eli Passow, a retired mathematics professor. After graduating from Stern College with a major in English literature, Passow has spent her professional life as a teacher, both of general and Judaic studies, for which she has a particular passion. While raising her children in Queens, she often presented scholarly shiurim to women’s Torah gatherings. After her Aliya from Philadelphia in 2002, she continued in her instructional path by teaching at Leyada, an elite secondary school attached to Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She is also one of the founders of Lomdot and Melamdot, a program for advanced women’s Torah learning in Jerusalem. Even now, Passow has been Zooming and subbing at Midreshet Rachel in Givat Shaul.

So how did her newly released book “Letters From Planet Corona” come into being? Passow admits that she never saw herself as a writer. “Published authors were to me mythical characters residing in a special sphere unattainable by mere mortals.” Enter COVID-19. In March of 2020 Passow sat down at her computer and began to write letters to family members and friends describing her feelings as the world was turning more “topsy-turvy” each day. From the feedback she began getting, she realized that she had a message to impart that was being heeded and internalized by others. So after the completion of 70 letters, dated from March 20 through Sukkot, October 2020, Passow “brought to light” her collection of letters under the title “Letters From Planet Corona,” as she refers to Planet Earth in its current manifestation.

As a student of Tanach and Torah She’be’al peh, Passow includes references to accounts in Chumash, heroes of the Neviim, Midrashim of Chazal and even citations from contemporary Jewish thinkers within her letters. (At one point she cites Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l.) As a student of literature, she cites classical works from Shakespeare to the moderns. Residing in Israel, she often refers to newspaper reports from all sectors as well as statements from well known personalities. In short, Passow covers all bases in attempting to find meaning in this tumultuous world.

What is most charming and endearing in the letters are her humorous, personal asides that we can relate to so well. Whether as spouses holed up with our better half for nine months, parents of grown children struggling with many different challenges, grandparents missing the hugs and warmth of our precious grandchildren, or simply “people people” missing our interactions with old and new friends, she speaks meaningfully to us all. Passow has a delightful wit and sense of humor, and often the reader will LOL (laugh out loud) at her descriptions of moments she encountered while coping with this new planet.

Passow creatively devotes different letters to different themes which she addresses through citations from all of the above sources. In a letter dated March 22, she focuses upon “hands” and their role in the pandemic:

“Have you noticed that on Planet Corona hands are unusually noticeable? It’s not that they are outsized like the hands in a Rodin sculpture. But they are disportionately prominent. They can be threatening so they must be washed frequently and properly (20 seconds, which is the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice) and they must be gloved when you are outside. … Of course, it’s not something we haven’t come across before. Hands have always had sinister potential. Fists punch, hands slap. One can be tight-fisted or arrive empty-handed. … Events can get out-of -hand (like the pandemic). However we have to keep in mind that ‘hand’ conjures up many more positive associations and metaphors. Hands caress, heal, comfort, share, clasp affectionately and more. As Juliet says, ‘And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.’ Tzedakah goes from hand to hand. Hands knead challah, knit warm hats for grandchildren and soldiers.”

This is just one example of many hundreds in which Passow presents images from multiple sources to direct us to seeing inside the events and searching for hidden meanings.

In terms of what will be upon leaving Planet Corona, Passow has offered much to ponder toward the book’s end:

“We could look at this ‘place’ we were in and see some of the humor, quirks, anomalies and even positive elements of our situation. We were catapulted out of ‘habitual perception’ and essentially forced to view the familiar in unfamiliar ways. To reflect on what we had heretofore taken for granted. Things such as family, health, economic stability, even religious values and practice. … So we realize that we haven’t really traveled far at all. Still, we may be viewing our home with ‘new eyes and extra colors.’ By ‘leaving’ if only in imagination, we still have the advantage of ‘returning’ to our home base with all the wisdom, experiences, and ‘souvenirs’ we’ve acquired during our voyage.”

Praise for the new volume was offered by Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, rabbi and professor of rabbinic literature at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem; and noted scholar and teacher Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, rav of Kehillas Ohr Sameach and professor emeritus of the University of Maryland Law School.

Passow was also extremely gratified to receive an endorsement from Sarah Shapiro, author, anthropologist and columnist, who said: “‘Lessons from Planet Corona” is unique, the result of an intelligent, strong, feminine voice which combines witty, satirical and humorous narratives with thought-provoking, uplifting and inspirational insights. The author has an engaging style, which makes her often penetrating and incisive observations accessible to all as she describes her personal journey from initial bewilderment and occasional despair to a deeper understanding of what it means to truly put your faith in God in the midst of a pandemic that tested human endurance.”

“Letters from Planet Corona” is available in the United States on Amazon and Kindle. In Israel it can be ordered through Book Depository. To learn more about the author and letters to come, go to www.lettersfromplanetcorona.com.

By Pearl Markovitz

 

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles