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Shabbat Shalom from Karen Wisialowski

Man Plans, and God Laughs

There is an old Yiddish adage, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” If that’s the case, surely God is having a chuckle now watching us navigate these crazy times.

In the weeks before Shelter in Place, Bill and I had been planning to host extended family for my nephew’s wedding and to travel to England in the fall. At PTS, we were getting ready to meet two new clergy, present a balanced budget to the Board of Trustees, and grow our preschool.

Then, Coronavirus took center stage.

Since then, life has felt like an onslaught of decisions to make and actions to take. Should I dine outside at a restaurant to support the local economy? How can I show meaningful support for Black Lives Matter without putting myself in close contact with others? Should we resume services at PTS and under what set of rules? What programs and activities should be prioritized at PTS as our resources are stretched?

In Slow Down to Make Better Decisions in a Crisis, Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, says that decision making is especially difficult right now. He shares that the threat of the virus, uncertainty of its trajectory, and the resulting anxiety can lead us to make short-sighted decisions.

One of the challenges for PTS as a whole is how to move forward in a way that serves our community now and is also flexible to rapidly changing times. On the one hand, we need to move quickly because the clock is ticking. B’nai mitzvah are scheduled, social justice needs are urgent, and the High Holy Days will arrive in September whether or not we are ready.

Still, as Markman cautions, “The best way to resist the siren call of action is to slow down. Panic makes people want to act right now to avoid a threat, but most of the actions you are likely to take will not be prudent in the face of a potential pandemic.”

Heeding Markman’s advice, we are taking a deliberate approach to every decision that we are making in the face of this crisis. Since we have no experience that can guide us, we are by necessity broadening our thinking by imagining multiple possible outcomes for each decision path we travel.

For example, we are considering opening our sanctuary for moments of reflection by families, one at time, on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah. We believe that we can do this in a way that is safe and still meaningful. But, we need to be ready to shift on a moment’s notice. We may need to cancel our plans at the last minute or, we can only hope, we may be able to offer more opportunities for PTS congregants to connect with our sacred space.

If nothing else, COVID has taught us that there is a limit to how much we can predict. We need to learn to live with uncertainty. And while we want to take our time and base our actions in information and logic, it’s also true that too much analysis can paralyze decision making. It can give us a false sense that we have control and that there is one correct answer to our various questions. While facts matter, we shouldn’t fool ourselves that the perfect decision will result in the perfect outcome.

I, for one, am filling the void created by lack of certain knowledge with clarity around my own values as a person and PTS’s values as an organization. These are the fundamentals that underscore every difficult decision we’ve already made and have yet to make. These are also the values that will make us better as a community and will guide us into the future.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?”

Let us use this moment of COVID to impel us to make better decisions for the tomorrow that we want to create.

Shabbat Shalom