A Jewish Community without Borders during COVID
My son and I have always been Jewish, at least in a secular sense. We live in a town in the American South with a small Jewish population. As a single parent with a special needs child, I have felt the sting of marginalization in Jewish populations before, and it is no different here. As an extrovert, I crave the constant company of others, something which has not been possible during this Covid-19 scourge. The isolation expands exponentially and with it a crippling sense of anxiety that nothing ameliorates, including my religious faith. (Even our rescue Bichon Frise seemed to be depressed by our isolation, lying on the couch with no interest in playing with his toys or chasing a ball outside.) One day a friend called and I explained my dilemma. She told me that if you’re not happy or comfortable with your own Jewish community, find another one, get on the internet and travel virtually.
And that’s exactly what I did. Each day I began visiting other Jewish communities and synagogues via the computer. Initially, my son and I looked for Shabbat services on Fridays. We visited Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox shuls nearby, first reading about them on their Facebook pages, discovering who their rabbis were and what programs they offered. Though the pandemic was financially difficult for us as we both lost our jobs, there was no worry about dues.
Then, we “traveled” further. Even before the pandemic, it would have even been difficult for us to go to Charlotte, Raleigh, or Durham because of an old and unreliable car. Now, the sky was the limit. We joined congregations in South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi—where rabbis had familiar southern accents in common, but performed unique Shabbat services.
We became even more adventurous later on, wanting to expand the world virtually as it was shrinking in real life. I began connecting with Jewish Community Centers in different cities, signing up for Jewish film festivals, and talking to people in Jewish Family Services in different places. Then, we attended services in different countries. As a Sephardic Jew whose father’s family originated in Spain, I was ecstatic to simply hit a few keys on the keyboard and find myself immersed in a Shabbat service in Barcelona or Mexico City. My son took to asking: “Where should we find our Jewish community tonight?” We ended up in London, although we had to figure out the proper time differentials to get us there on time. The next day we went to Sydney, Australia. I told my son “let’s see what Jewish people are up to there.”
I felt a daily hunger to connect with people outside of my home, to reach beyond the insular universe of our familial structure and fenced-in backyard where we felt safe physically. But for us, if not for our dog, visiting Jewish communities far and wide resulted in much-needed connection, as well as prayer: Kind folks offered employment tips, ideas about where to possibly relocate for a more vibrant Jewish community, and even the opportunity to meet romantic prospects. The chance to simply talk to others was a huge boon.
During the pandemic, I began saying a private prayer: “Thank you for the internet.” It had become our way of travel, of accessing Jewish communities in all their glorious wonder. Virtually, I was able to expand our Jewish community—into one that didn’t care whether I was a single parent or ostracized us because we were a special needs family. Before the pandemic, I was confronted with these issues on a regular basis in Greensboro’s Jewish community, but the peculiarities of life during the pandemic enabled me to explore new Jewish spaces online and find a welcoming virtual home. Through this period of pandemic-infused and unremitting darkness, we found beacons of light and joy. We had made friends around the United States and the globe. I was receiving daily emails and phone calls from Canada, western Australia, the UK, France, Portugal, Israel, and Germany, inquiring as to our health and safety.This Friday, after picking up our challah curbside, we are looking forward to attending Shabbat services at Central Synagogue in New York. Even as life returns to normal, I won’t stop traveling the globe or expanding my Jewish community.
How to cite this page
Skudra, Renee. "A Jewish Community without Borders during COVID." 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 27, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/jewish-community-without-borders-during-covid>.