There’s little disagreement that 2020 has been a most challenging and difficult year. It has been blighted with sorrow and sickness and disappointment and loss and heartbreak. Nevertheless, as we prepare to welcome 2021, I find myself pausing to count my blessings. Surprisingly, there have been many – even during the year of the pandemic.

My daughter-in-law recently called us on her iPhone from California. The grandkids wanted to thank us for the Hanukkah gifts we sent. It has been a year since we have seen our west coast children and grandchildren in person and attended the shul where our son is the rabbi. They look so much taller on the screen than they did when we visited them last December. They ask more questions and are more articulate. I want to reach out and hug them.

My six-year-old grandson asked his mother why he couldn’t see us on the phone:

“There’s no picture: I can’t see Grammy and Grandpa. I want to see them!”

“I’m not on Face Time,” my daughter-in-law told him. “We only see them when we’re on Face Time.”

I laughed to think that seeing a person virtually was something a six year old took for granted – a feature of a regular phone call. And I found myself sharing a memory from my childhood with him. I told him that when I first heard the suggestion that in the faraway future, you would actually be able to see the person on the other end of the phone, I couldn’t imagine how it would ever come true.

When I heard that prediction, I had looked carefully at the rotary phone and was skeptical about how and where inventors would be able to install a TV screen on it. Both his mother and I tried to describe to him what an old-fashioned phone looked like. When a six-year-old thinks phone, he thinks of a cellphone. Finally, my daughter-in-law showed him their landline – and he could see that there was no room for a screen. She then called us back on Face Time so he could see us and continue the conversation.

In so many ways, technology has brought us closer to family and faith, enabled us to work more productively, and to connect with friends.

As much as technology was criticized as a menace about to take over our lives pre-pandemic, I have found myself rejoicing in its wonders as my husband and I shelter in place. In so many ways, it has brought us closer to family and faith, enabled us to work more productively, and to connect with friends.

My husband has continued to connect with his shul through zoom daily and chats with our rabbi and his pals. This has been a lifeline. We both attend programs of the three synagogues to which we belong in New York, California and Florida. It’s especially thrilling to participate in programs at which our son is the rabbi in San Francisco. Through technology, we are able to remain involved without leaving home.

Last week, we celebrated the zoom birthday party of a 95-year-old relative in another state, connecting with cousins we had not seen in decades, while rejoicing in the strength, stamina, and flexibility of the celebrant. He commented that “in many ways, this was better than a regular birthday party – and I didn’t even have to provide refreshments!”

A few days before, we celebrated Hanukkah with a zoom candle lighting. It was the first time in several years our family of 14 was able to celebrate the holiday together.

And last month, we spent a couple of hours on a zoom shiva comforting a friend who had suddenly lost his younger brother. It was an intimate and far-ranging conversation, but no hugs.

Of course, there are no hugs anymore – anywhere – and we all look forward to returning to a time of hugs post-vaccine.

The much-bashed Facebook has reunited me with friends from as far back as elementary school and has enabled me to connect with readers throughout the world. When I launched my debut novel, The Takeaway Men, in the midst of the pandemic, I thought that my opportunity to speak to audiences about the book would be severely curtailed or eliminated entirely. Actually, the opposite is true. Zooming with readers in book clubs, Holocaust Centers, Hadassah and other Jewish groups throughout the world has become something of a full-time job.

I am thankful for technology as a useful tool that has met the moment. Can you imagine how lonely and isolated we would be now without it? At the same time I hope that children and teachers will return to school, and adults to work and leisure activities in the coming year. I hope that businesses will reopen and people will go on vacations. I long for the day when all synagogues will return to their normal functioning. And just maybe, we can learn to use technology proportionally and positively. Most of all, I hope and pray that people will stop getting sick and dying from Covid19.

As we enter a new year with the pandemic still raging, let us celebrate the blessings of family and the support of friends. May we appreciate the gifts of health and safety. Let’s find comfort in faith and science and technology. Let us praise the heroism of helpers among us. May we all draw upon the healing power of hope and dreams and the miracle of resilience. With 2020 in the rearview mirror, perhaps we will enter 2021 wiser and more grateful.