‘Being part of a community is more important than I understood before Covid-19’ – Plus61 J Media

Posted By on May 1, 2020

SHARON BERGER: In these weird times, everyone is missing out on their larger circles of Jewish and non-Jewish involvement

IN MY TEENAGE YEARS I became more religiously observant and found a great feeling of connection with the Jewish world through davening and ritual. I lived in an area in northern California that wasnt walking distance to any Orthodox synagogues so every Shabbat I prayed devoutly by myself. My bemused parents helped me set up timers and tried to not belittle my pre-cut toilet paper. I felt a connection to others who were observing Shabbat, wherever they were.

When I joined a community, I loved the fact that you could go to any synagogue and recognise the service. As someone who spent much of their early years on the move, this really spoke to me.

I remember being on a class field trip to Washington DC over Pesach in Year 8 and sitting outside my room reading the entire Haggadah. It was comforting that although I was alone, I was connecting to something much bigger than me, that was woven with thousands of years of tradition and culture, linking me to my ancestors.

Over time I have changed my views, partly due to my difficulty reconciling my feminist thinking with orthodoxy but also mixed with my questioning around God. My synagogue attendance has lapsed over the years. While I always try to attend for the holidays, it has become increasingly haphazard.

On first day Pesach this year, I joined my communitys online service but found myself distracted by the other tabs on my computer. I half listened while checking my emails, Facebook and my newest obsession, the John Hopkins map which tracks Covid infections and deaths. I wasnt inspired enough to rejoin for the end of festival or Shabbat but have caught bits of webinars and other content on offer.

I realised I could hold my own service, with the same siddur I used as a teenager, but quickly dismissed this option. Later, questioned why.

For me synagogue now serves as a way of connecting to the community and worshipping together feels more meaningful than praying alone. While my faith may be weaker than it once was, I still feel connected to Judaism. While many of the rituals are individual or home-based (we light candles, we observe Pesach and I even made challah on Friday), being part of a community is more important than I understood before Covid-19.

In these times everyone, including my kids, while continuing their home rituals, are missing out on their larger circles of Jewish (and non-Jewish) involvement.

In these weird times I havent been focused on my Jewish identity, but rather on the broader picture of destruction and death that this pandemic is causing worldwide

My son is meant to finish high school this year and was planning on gap year in Israel next year. With all the uncertainty, particularly around international travel, its unclear whether this will happen. The youth movement shnatties in Israel have been in lockdown for weeks and who knows when they will be able to resume their planned programs? I am hoping that by 2021 international travel will have restarted and this pinnacle experience of youth movement involvement can resume.

My daughter has been eagerly looking forward to going to Israel for six weeks at the end of the year with her year 10 cohort. This has become a highlight of their shared high school experience. I am not holding my breath.

They will both miss out on movement camps in July, although I understand the movements are trying to put together some virtual programming. Hopefully by the end of 2020 interstate travel will be allowed again so they can at least see their friends from across Australia.

The movements have had some get togethers online and school has offered Kabbalat Shabbat services. But as we all know from working remotely, its not the same as face-to-face engagement.

In these weird times I havent been focused on my Jewish identity, but rather on the broader picture of destruction and death that this pandemic is causing worldwide. While I meticulously check the totals in both Australia and Israel every day, my real concern is the growing international health and economic impact, particularly in those countries where people dont have the luxury of self-isolating, access to running water and top-level healthcare.

While Jewish communities in the UK and the US have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, this virus doesnt discriminate, regardless of your faith, or lack thereof.

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'Being part of a community is more important than I understood before Covid-19' - Plus61 J Media

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