I am a person who is sustained by the Jewish community. Amidst the stress of being a full-time college student living in New York City, my Hillel is the place where life slows down for me. Normalcy means hanging out in my Hillel student lounge every day, running the traditional egalitarian minyan every Friday night, and going to Shabbat lunch every Saturday.
Except, on March 16th, my campus was closed for the semester due to the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19 — closing my beloved Hillel along with it. The next time I’ll get to go back to my Jewish community will be welcome week for the fall 2020 semester, in five months. Since campus closed, I have been trying to navigate how to be Jewish in a community that just moved completely online.
But I know I’m not alone; this sense of loss is a collective feeling because Jews are traditionally defined by kehillah (community). We pray in community, we eat in community, we celebrate in community… the list goes on. We are now facing a time where we must balance a commitment to the community with a commitment to pikuach nefesh, or saving a life.
During this unprecedented time, I am undertaking a challenge, and I hope you will join me: Let’s make quarantine as Jewish as possible. Here are a few ideas for how to do just that:
Kaddish, or praises of god, is built into every service and relies on a minyan, a group of 10 Jewish individuals. Many rabbinical councils have called for the closure of our synagogues and day schools. This does not mean that religious life has to be put on hold. One of the rabbis at my Hillel sent out a Shacharit (morning prayer service) routine tailored for the coronavirus. I have been using it every day because the ability to start my day with a Jewish intention allows me to keep a commitment to Judaism in the heart amongst the chaos. It is a reminder that amongst instability, praying can create stability.
Last Friday, the minyan I helped run hosted our first zoom Kabbalat Shabbat, and Hillel International has created a resource bank for students to engage in Jewish life.
We have stumbled upon a great opportunity to read every single book that daily life has prevented us from picking up. This is a great time to expand your catalog of Jewish authors and connect with a (sometimes fictional) community. I am in the process of rallying my friends into reading The History of Love by Nikole Krauss, a beautiful story about intergenerational Jewish connection, Holocaust survivors, and love. We plan to hold weekly Zoom meetings because what is more Jewish than a synagogue book club? Some other suggestions: The memoir Long Live The Tribe of The Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden can serve as an important reminder for our community to be more inclusive of Jews of Color. Abby Stein’s memoir Becoming Eve gives the opportunity to make space for transgender Jews in our community. Literature has always guided the Jewish people, so take this time to reconnect with Jewish tradition through books.
There is a plethora of Jewish media outside the world of Hunters and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. HBO just launched a show called The Plot Against America, based off the Philip Roth novel, about an American Jewish family during the time of the Holocaust. I watched the first episode and not only am I impatiently waiting for the next one to be released, I felt connected to my familial roots. The show reminds me why even now, during this uncertain time, it is so important to be boldly Jewish.
I have to also recommend my favorite Jewish podcast Unorthodox, produced by Tablet magazine which explores everything from the Jewish history of rhinoplasty to rabbinical activists. Another great podcast, Can We Talk, showcases a different story of a remarkable Jewish woman each month. These episodes present unique Jewish stories that we don’t always hear and are a great way to integrate Judaism into your daily life from home.
Two months ago, my cousin and I wrote down a list of Jewish family recipes we wanted to learn to conquer and pass down to our future children. I spent all of last Friday making a family challah recipe that under normal circumstances I would never have time to make. Challah is something women in my family have made every Friday for generations, and I finally got to be a part of that. My challah was far from perfect but I have many quarantine Shabbats to perfect my braiding skills.
For you, maybe you want to try starting Daf Yomi, the daily Talmud portion that is read every day. Or maybe you want to create a virtual group to discuss Jewish history. I am hoping I can finally take the time to learn trope, or the tune in which the Torah is sung to. Filling your free time with something Jewish can remind you that even without the community, you are living a Jewish life.
Tikkun Olam (Repair the World)
I saved tikkun olam for last because I truly believe the most Jewish thing we can do during quarantine is to help one another. Dorot, a Jewish organization that connects younger generations with senior citizens, is launching a caring call program to connect young people to quarantined senior citizens. Many cities have a mutual aid spreadsheet that allows people to offer and ask for donations, grocery pick-ups, and childcare help. Look and see if your city has a form and give what you can to help those in need. If you live in an apartment complex, post a sign with your contact information offering to pick up groceries for those who need it the next time you go to the store.
Keep in mind that we are a collective society that must help and depend on each other. Be considerate and limit how many necessities you buy. Donate to The Met Council, an organization that fights Jewish poverty and has been consistently feeding people through the COVID-19 crisis. Order locally when you can and support small businesses that were forced to close. The best way to make quarantine Jewish is to live by our Jewish values. We must depend on one another and help one another. That is how you create a Jewish community through a computer screen.
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