Serious Semite: This Too Shall Pass

Trigger Warning: The following borrowed joke is sick, but it serves a purpose, so please read on.

“What is worse than finding a worm in your apple? Finding half a worm in your apple. What is worse than finding half a worm in your apple? The Holocaust.”

In the last couple of months, I, along with many, have experienced an exquisite kind of pain. The extreme quiet of living alone is getting a little much as we approach the one-year anniversary of lockdowns. There is a heavy toll from 300 days of solitude.

The initial lockdown felt like an adventure, apart from attending heart-wrenching funerals and online shivas, hearing about multitudes of other deaths and watching the virus’s rapid spread around the globe. Other than that, the wartime spirit became a source of creative inspiration and adventure. I filmed a YouTube web series, “Shopping for the Apocalypse,” on location at Ralph’s supermarket on Pico Boulevard. It began realistically at the height of the great toilet roll shortage and devolved into a surrealist comedy, featuring me dressed in a lycra bodysuit. Few shoppers looked surprised because, for most people, it was just another day in Los Angeles.

Back in April 2020, the internet was abuzz with coronavirus parody songs, which continued until the pain got closer to home and people no longer found it funny.

Today, many of my married friends face greater challenges at home with the constant presence of their children and spouses, trying to work and conduct business amidst noise and busyness and longing for silence. I, on the other hand, find myself longing for noise, beyond waking up to the sound of hot water crackling through the radiator. And yet, what is worse than being alone? The Holocaust.

I reread “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankl’s account of navigating life in Auschwitz and how he continually chose to interpret his experience as something that he could survive and even grow from, through building his inner strength and refusing to lose his humanity. Pain is relative, loneliness is real, but a year of coronavirus restrictions are negligible when we consider the bigger picture.

Pain is relative, loneliness is real, but a year of coronavirus restrictions are negligible when we consider the bigger picture.

Some therapists might dismiss comparisons to the Holocaust as being unhelpful to a client who is experiencing pain. However, Frankl himself developed a psychological approach, logotherapy, which focuses on the future rather than the present, “a method less retrospective and less introspective.” Logotherapy proposes that “the typical self-centeredness of the neurotic is broken up instead of being continually fostered and reinforced.” He wasn’t a fan of the self-centered selfie lifestyle.

When he was walking from Auschwitz to a worksite, Frankl, nearly crying from the pain caused by sores on his feet and looking out for wire to use as improvised shoelaces, recounts feeling disgusted by his self-pitying thoughts. Instead, he directed his mind to visualize standing in a “well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room,” where he was giving an inspiring talk on the psychology of the concentration camp. Reading, rereading and reflecting on Frankl’s search for meaning can be a highly therapeutic process and force the challenges of 2021 to shrink or even disappear.

My “pity party” is another circumstance of being alone, still unmarried, still longing for partnership and fatherhood and holding back thoughts of despair. Comparing myself to friends never yields a good result, but a more extreme comparison can be beneficial. Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, also known as the Klausenberger Rabbi, lived through the Holocaust but lost his wife and eleven children to the Nazis. At age 42, he married the daughter of another Rabbinic dynasty (she was 24), and he was blessed with an additional seven children. He subsequently founded the Laniado hospital in Israel, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives; 8,400 babies are born there every year.

I resisted the December 31 memes and proclamations that 2020 was an awful year because while it was difficult, we still have a choice of how to interpret it. This may be impossible for those who have lost loved ones or are still suffering the consequences of the virus. But for the rest of us, how can we say it was a bad year unless we fail to take into account all of the positive outcomes?

The process of weightlifting in the gym involves going through moments of pain where muscle fibers are broken down to make them stronger. Lotus flowers can grow in the mud. There are fire-activated seeds that lay dormant until there is fire, at which their shells crack open and start to grow. Unsurprisingly, some of these pyrophile plants exist in California. If 2020 was a pressure cooker, then what are we cooking?

The pain we face may feel overwhelming at times, but these can be the moments to surrender to our challenging emotions rather than resist them. Yet, there are also healing perspectives that we can focus on, and they are always available to us. My favorite is a story of King Solomon. He challenged his courtiers to find him an object that would make a sad person happy and a happy person sad. After months of searching, one man presented him with a ring that had the following words inscribed upon it; “this too shall pass.”

Wishing you a happy, healthy and healing 2021.


Marcus J Freed is an actor, filmmaker and award-winning author of The Kosher Sutras and The Kabbalah Sutras. www.marcusjfreed.com and on social @marcusjfreed. You can see “Shopping for the Apocalypse”  at https://www.youtube.com/c/marcusfreed.

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