24 July 2020
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve noticed an uptick in photos of freshly baked challah, newly planted gardens, and handmade crafts in my social media feeds. I have watched my friends from across the country, many who have never been much for baking or crafting before, take on the challenge of making something new in response to mandatory lockdowns or quarantine.
Baking or gardening, of course, are only a couple of the many ways that people in our community have created positivity in an uncertain world. Our resiliency during this disorienting time has led to a comforting return to ancient traditions and a simultaneous exploration of innovative ways to find meaning in Jewish life. Sharing these explorations with others is one of the beautiful ways people are making the best of this challenging moment.
At the same time, continuing to adapt to our changed reality also means that we must make space to recognize the losses so many are experiencing. Too many of our friends, family, and fellow Jewish community members have suffered from COVID-19-related loss and hardship, including physical, emotional, financial, and psychological pain.
The organizations that serve our community have experienced loss as well, with ripple effects that touch so many of us. Our synagogues, JCCs, schools, and yes—Federation too, have had to postpone or cancel beloved programs and furlough or let go respected Jewish communal professionals in response to rapidly changing needs and economic realities.
This week at Federation, we announced the difficult decision to lay off several team members who have served our organization and community well. Within the current context of evolving organizational and communal priorities in the face of a public health and economic crisis, these staffing changes were a painful necessity to ensure Federation’s long-term capacity to deliver on our work. Yet even as we take careful steps to ensure those affected are supported through this transition, we feel the loss of our colleagues and acknowledge the hardship they are encountering.
Over the coming months, in Greater Washington, across the country, and around the world, Jewish life will continue to look and feel different. Organizations, synagogues, schools, and agencies will change to better support their constituents and the community as a whole. Some of these shifts will be exciting. They will make us proud of our community’s innovation and spirit, like the local synagogue that is exploring the idea of teaching every congregant in their community to blow a shofar—over Zoom. And still, like those shared this week, some changes will be painful.
For all the optimistic leaps our community takes to bring Jewish meaning into our lives in new ways, we will also mourn the fact that we may not gather in person for holidays this year, that school will look different, and that it might be a long time before we can host friends for Shabbat again, or gather for a simple family celebration.
Resilient individuals and communities understand and embrace both kinds of change—the welcome kind and the painful kind—by remaining emotionally flexible. Our community’s resiliency allows us to take comfort in what we can retain of the familiar. After all, there’s comfort is knowing that by baking or creating or growing something new, or by finding Jewish meaning in new places, we can take charge of certain aspects of our lives even in the midst of so much change. And at the same time, our resiliency will allow us to hold space for the losses we experience, even as we begin to build new traditions.