Pandemic Lessons for a Post-pandemic World

On July 11th, please join Federation and many other organizations for a rally at the U.S. Capitol—No Fear: A Rally In Solidarity with the Jewish People

On a recent sunny afternoon, my wife and I decided to walk around the National Mall. What was remarkable about the outing is how unremarkable it felt. We didn’t wear masks and barely thought about their absence. Just several months ago, an exposed nose or mouth would have felt strange, but we humans are very adaptable creatures. The new normal is replaced by a newer normal (or an old normal), and we adjust.

And so it went with many aspects of our lives over the past year and a half. Think about all the profound changes we made—quickly and en masse. We reinvented how we work, communicate, socialize, access health care, shop, learn, and even pray. When I step back for a moment and assess it all, the breadth and depth of the changes and our ability to acclimate feel astonishing.

These changes revealed a lot: how we can connect to people in new ways; how we can reinvent Jewish rituals and observances; and how we can move beyond previous assumptions when it is required of us. Sometimes external pressures enable creativity and change beyond what we may think is possible. I want to hold on to this ability to rethink and reimagine, embrace many of the new habits we’ve developed, and even build upon them. The pressures of the pandemic provided us with the opportunity to rethink some assumptions about what can and should be changed.

One of the areas of significant change was in the use of technology. The pandemic—and the ubiquitous Zoom—leveled the playing field and opened up accessibility. Perhaps most significantly, barriers have been reduced for people with disabilities who historically have faced challenges in participating in Jewish life. For example, the ease of closed captioning on Zoom made that accommodation more commonly used. Remote access to rich content and active online participation were particularly powerful for those who have mobility challenges. These changes also proved critical for a broad swath of us. As a community, we saw our participation numbers rise significantly during this time. For many people, the Jewish community was never more open and accessible.

We were all enriched by having fuller participation of community members joining in the conversation. We have the resources, experience, and capacity to continue to open the doors to Jewish life in Greater Washington even wider. Let’s continue to adapt and grow our community. Let’s consult with the newly welcomed and get their ideas as we develop new on-ramps, address barriers, and create community in innovative ways. The pandemic taught us that some barriers are more subtle and complex, and we need to continue to listen and understand the growing and changing needs of our community. Let’s persist in challenging our assumptions about what we can and cannot do to build an open and vibrant Jewish community. When we’re thoughtful and creative about increasing accessibility, it benefits everyone.

I’m excited about post-pandemic Jewish life and continuing the conversation about how to ensure a vibrant and inclusive future for all of us.

Shabbat Shalom,