As I logged off my third Passover zoom call last month, I remember feeling as though some of the joy of the holiday had slipped away. The seder was lovely, and my cousin led a wonderful and culturally relevant feminist seder, but the palpable sense of meaningful human connection away from a screen lacked. Like so many things, COVID erased the sense of unexpectedness I used to feel at holiday gatherings. It eradicated a version of the future with long hugs and lingering over too many parve brownies with relatives. Instead, it brought us rapid tests, mute buttons, and awkward computer camera angles. It also brought the unusual challenge of finding community through distance.
Finding community is a journey—one that I imagine changes as our lives ebb and flow through fluctuating family needs. The loneliness of COVID made me realize that community is more important than ever, but finding that sense of ease and connection with others in a Jewish setting seemed more fleeting than ever.
My tidy vision of having my evenings spent working on my novel or reading an engrossing memoir slipped away because of exhaustion. My dream of going to Tot Shabbat services followed by an early dinner with friends on Shabbat faded away because I just didn't have the energy to make a plan. And because families with working parents are just too burned out to take on extra work, gatherings not planned by an institution just won't happen.
Even when those gatherings occur, such as at the diverse synagogue my family and I belong to, too many challenges arose in the wake of the pandemic. Navigating and feeding unvaccinated children and a community of elders and immuno-compromised folks makes everything complicated. The spaces for connection continue to fade further away.
I will look for gentle ways to bridge gaps even with strangers.
I've realized that perhaps instead of looking to others to create spaces for our own meaning, I will look for gentle ways to bridge gaps even with strangers. I will smile at the other parents reaching for matzah in the grocery store and will hope that as my daughter begins Hebrew school, more conversations can occur that will lead to more unofficial feelings of community.
While COVID took away so much, it also gave me a chance to reevaluate how I define community. It gave me and my family a time to evaluate who we are without others constantly around us. It made circles much smaller, and while there is a loss to that, there is a space that I can fill by being intentional about where I take my daughter. While this summer hopefully brings more opportunities for Jewish events and community, I will remember that they can't create the community without us. We must show up, be present, and do the work of building the community that we want—and need.
We can't do it alone. So, the next time I find myself buying a challah before Shabbat and matzah next year, I will look around for those who are doing the same. Perhaps they too are looking for connection.
About the Author
Molly Ritvo is a freelance writer living in Burlington, VT. She has a significant background in communication and writing across many disciplines including fiction, creative nonfiction, journalism, and marketing. She has worked in higher education and for empowering nonprofit organizations. Her work has been featured in many publications, including both Vermont-specific outlets as well as Upstreet Literary Journal, Tiny Buddha, Mother.ly, The Write Life, and more. She holds a BA from Tufts University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. To learn more about Molly and to read more of her work, visit mollyritvo.com.