This week the US, and NY specifically, became the epicenter of COVID-19. It is a truly great challenge that we all hope to overcome soon.

New York, like every state, has a motto. In the case of New York, the motto is right there on the state flag. That motto is 'Excelsior' and it means 'Ever Upwards'. The word feels ever more relevant, for it implies that despite obstacles bringing dips in progress, we strive to bounce back and continue 'ever upwards'.

Jewish history feels similar. It is vast, rich and ancient. It traverses continents and cultures, and crosses through millennia in a way that sometimes belies the numerous challenges and dogged perseverance that it took to prevail each and every day. And through it all, the direction has always proven to have been 'Excelsior'.

The Jewish story, though beginning with Genesis and Adam and Eve, really begins with Sara and Abraham, the first Jews. They introduced monotheism to the world, together with a fierce dedication to selflessly caring for their fellow man. They were mocked, exiled, and Abraham was even sentenced to be executed for his beliefs. They persevered nonetheless, founding a people still thriving four thousand years later, and inspiring billions of others to this very day.

Soon after came their great grandchild Joseph. He was bullied, hated and sold as a slave by his own brothers. He persevered nonetheless, becoming the effective ruler of the superpower of his day, saving millions of lives, and all the while staying true to his faith and family.

Not long afterwards comes Miriam, Joseph's great-great niece, in Egypt. She lived at a time of virulent antisemitism - not unlike early 1940's Europe - when many Jews were uncomfortable with bringing children into the world, feeling that a world such as theirs was not worth living in. She persevered nonetheless, convincing here parents to remarry, protecting her brother Moses and literally being the turning point of the Jews' bitter slavery in Egypt. Her efforts culminated in freedom for her people, and spiritual and material prosperity.

Soon after, Miram's great grandson, Betzalel, partnered with Ohaliav to create the Tabernacle (the Mishkan in Hebrew) - the very first Jewish house of worship. Ohaliav was from the Jewish tribe of Dan, a tribe that was unfortunately viewed as inferior by some. There were those who frowned upon the idea that a member of that tribe should be the architect of the House of G‑d (which is what the Mishkan is described as). Ohaliav persevered nonetheless, designed and built the Tabernacle, and reminded his people that it is one's character that defines a person, not pedigree.

We fast forward some 500 years, and the Jews in Israel were lead by another descendant of the tribe of Dan: Samson. Samson lives at a time of great difficulty for the Jews, who were being tormented by neighboring Philistia, had become dispirited and seemed to be on the verge of complete collapse. Samson persevered nonetheless, and single-handedly inspired the Jews to reconnect with the faith, regain their independence and reminded them of the gift they were blessed with to be Jewish.

Samson was succeed by the first Jewish kings and queens, the third of which (Solomon) built the first Bet Hamikdash (temple) in Jerusalem. When that Temple was destroyed by Babylon, the Jews found themselves facing their greatest challenge yet. The Persians, who overtook Babylon, threatened to annihilate every single Jew in one day, in a sudden, shocking burst of antisemitism. A Jewish heroine, Esther, steps in to turn her own misfortune - being held captive in a palace and married to a boorish king against her will - into salvation for her people. At great risk to herself, she has that nightmarish decree overturned, and turns one of the most frightful episodes in Jewish history into a joyous holiday which we celebrated only weeks ago. Ever upwards.

Persia was succeeded by ancient Greece on the international stage as the dominant power. While at first benevolent, the Greeks turned hostile and intolerant to the Jews and their faith, threatening - once again - to render the word 'Jew' to history. One individual - there were countless more - stands out in that era. Her name was Chana, and she was personally ordered by the tyrannical king Antiochus to abandon her faith. Chana, and her entirely family, stood up to this despot, refused to bend, and paid the ultimate price for it. Their act of courage set off the Maccabee revolt, freeing the Jews and bringing over century of Jewish independence and giving us the holiday of Chanukah.

After Greece was Rome. A great empire, but one which also destroyed the Jewish Temple and country. The Byzantine Empire, Arab Empire, Holy Roman Empire, French and Russian Empires followed, at many intervals all bringing Jewish history to the brink. The result wasn't just survival. It was phenomenal growth.

These are genuinely challenging times. Many are staying home in order to help keep others safe. Healthcare providers - doctors, nurses, ambulance workers, and many more - put themselves at risk every day to help the infected recover. I know of many such exceptional individuals right here in our community. We are here together, for each other, and hope to pull through soon. We ask our Creator to relieve us of this pandemic. We pray that the Passover season, which we now approach, will bring us our own 2020 Exodus from the COVID-19 virus, bring a speedy recovery to those in need and fill our world with hope and healing.

 Rabbi Avrohom