I became observant when I was 17 years old, after the death of my father two years earlier left me wanting more of a community. I took my first trip to Poland and Israel with USY when I was 16, and clearly remember standing in shul in Poland on a Friday night and for the first time being struck by an incredible sense of community. I realized then, for maybe the first time, that being Jewish means we are all tied intricately together; that the words I said at my home shul in Baltimore were also being sung in a shul in Poland, and in Israel, and around the world. Shabbat meant that we were all doing the same thing at the same time. Upon my return home I started to take on more Jewish observance, both for the sense of belonging, and because I wanted to be doing something at the same time as a whole community of people.
What I’ve seen in quarantine has been nothing short of incredible, and has made me remember all that I fell in love with in our Jewish community. I’ve seen shuls gather for tehillim over Zoom, and schools that have come together to celebrate virtual bnei mitzvot. My family has sung and swayed with our camp and school communities for virtual havdalah, and my neighbors — members of both Orthodox and Conservative shuls — gathered on our front lawns singing together to welcome in Shabbat. We’ve seen neighbors call to check in on each other, and those who can leave their homes take lists to the grocery store for others. As we walk down the street for some fresh air and smile at others as we pass them, there is an unspoken language in our smile. Maybe there’s also a sigh, or a nod, but what’s communicated is very clear — we’re all in this together.
We ask our friends how they are doing, less so because it’s just part of our greeting, but now because we really want to know how they are doing.
The words quarantine and social distancing may seem isolating, but the last two weeks have strangely made me feel closer to others than I have in a long time. While I wanted so desperately to be part of an observant community, full of people who all were doing the same things at the same time, as the years went on part of that magic waned. I was so busy in the day-to-day hustle of life, working and raising kids, and and I took so much for granted living in such a vibrant community.
But over the past two weeks I have felt that magic, and that feeling of community, return. The knowledge that we were all doing the same thing this Shabbat — even though it was mandated by the government — was special. As we walked on Shabbat afternoon we saw people through their windows playing games with their families, or enjoying time in their yard, and talking to neighbors (from a safe distance!).
The interconnectedness of our community is what always has been so amazing. The way we all know each other, or know of each other, the way we support each other to celebrate new life, milestones, simchas, and especially in death, is truly remarkable. And ironically it’s also been why our communities have been hit so hard. Jewish geography is very real, and at any shul or bar mitvah or funeral there will be people from so many different communities. That makes is so much easier and faster to pass this virus within our Jewish world.
I’m grateful for so many things that the past few weeks have showed me. Our pace of life has been forced to slow. We’re eating meals with our families, playing games, and painting together, curling up on the couch for family movie nights, and not rushing through life because we’re late for a meeting or an appointment. There is nowhere else to be right now other than exactly where we are. I’ve felt a communal pride, one I haven’t felt since the days after 9/11, as we forged together navigating our new world. Globally, we’re taking care of each other. We’re teaching our kids the importance of protecting the most vulnerable among us, and that if we work together to combat a global threat that perhaps, just maybe, we can apply those skills to other measures to improve this world.
I hope we can embrace this space where there is typically noise, continue to gain strength and support from our communities, and look for the good in others and this situation. We’re all in this together.
Stefanie Diamond lives in Teaneck with her husband and three daughters. Her dog, Charli, is loving quarantine the most, as she gets more attention and more walks than ever before. Stefanie is grateful to the Yeshivat Noam, Frisch School, Camp Stone, Shaare Tefillah, USY, and Emerson Ave/Trafalgar St communities for helping them see so much light during this time.