How my Jewish community has come together under quarantine
Last week, New York’s first cases of coronavirus started sweeping the state, with most of them consolidating themselves to my small Jewish community in Westchester county. As of today, Governor Andrew Cuomo has sent in the National Guard.
But the truth is, he needn’t have. Our situation is unique. Once we in New Rochelle’s Orthodox community discovered that a member of our community was diagnosed with the virus, we communicated our unwavering unanimous support for him and for our fellow Americans who might be infected by us — and self-quarantined.
Hard decisions were made. Our synagogue has been closed and will continue to be closed through March 15. This meant canceling Purim festivities, and a bar and bat mitzvah party. Imagine that: spending a year and a half working to learn your bar mitzvah Torah reading to have it cancelled. It can’t be rescheduled either; the specific portion is only read once a year (a virtual bar mitzvah took place on Zoom).
And we all — the hundreds of us who were at a variety of events that weekend — were forced into self quarantine. Since then, several individuals I know and have interacted with even more closely have tested positive for coronavirus.
Of course, it’s frustrating and annoying. My four children are in quarantine as well because students in their school have tested positive. Our entire family is homebound, so we are “homeschooling” while simultaneously working as close to full time as we can under the circumstances.
The schoolteachers and administration have been amazing, though, and they have set up a virtual learning website on incredibly short notice. The children are engaging with each other in virtual classes over Zoom. School leadership is keeping the parents abreast of updates via Zoom and email as well.
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In other words, the Jewish community came together, a community of united parents, even in our homes.
Yet the quarantine is serious. We are unable to really go outside except in our yards. I am deprived of running, even though the routes I run on are almost always empty and desolate, and if I saw someone, I could simply make sure I maintain the recommended distance of six feet. It has been requested that even within our homes, we maintain a distance of six feet from each other for the time being; I cannot hold or kiss my children. It is difficult. Truthfully, I often forget. (It shouldn’t matter if we are all under quarantine, though, right?)
But there has been something amazing, too, arising from this time of isolation: solidarity.
The greater community, those not impacted by the quarantine, have banded together and helped us in our time of need. Neighbors who do not know us have stepped up to offer assistance for errands and shopping trips. Our Girl Scouts created ribbons and posters supporting us. Friends and family from far away sent well wishes, care packages, and texts, and called to check in.
Perhaps the biggest and most beautiful thing for me about this situation is my own community, the members of the Young Israel of New Rochelle. We created WhatsApp groups to keep each other abreast of what was going on. We discussed the communications from the Department of Health. We coordinated meal deliveries. We shared photos of food being sold at our local supermarket’s takeout counter. We posted messages from other entities similarly impacted. We sent messages of strength to one another.
We watched Yeshiva University play basketball alone — but together. We asked questions. We got answers. We joked. We joked some more. We laughed. We might have even cried.
We respected the quarantine and stayed put. Hundreds of us, stuck in our homes, went nowhere. I cannot tell you how weird it felt on Shabbat knowing we were all confined to our homes in a one-and-a-half mile radius, but couldn’t be together as a community and as a family. I admit I felt a real void.
But there is an interesting dynamic when you’re in a WhatsApp chat truly united by a very strong common thread of geography, religion (as this case happens to be), a situation with serious urgency (which is key), and membership, but no one is physically together and the only thing we all see onscreen is a bunch of letters.
I am sure in many communities, fitting in socially is difficult. People may have their groups of friends, and they struggle meeting their neighbors. I, too, had the same struggles, perhaps more so than others; depression kept me socially withdrawn and I even stopped going to shul for years.
But being in a chat where we are all in the same room, not segmenting ourselves off into clusters, all “wearing the same clothes” (the identifiers being our names, in this case), has given me a tremendous amount of comfort to freely communicate with my neighbors without intimidation, without fear.
The spotlight is on all of us identically; we are all equally part of the same conversation. There aren’t little groups of people off to the side. We can all share and feel like equivalent contributors to the conversation. We aren’t competing. We are all adding value and supporting each other in a situation that is unpredictable and unfathomable. We are offering support to those of us who have tested positive for the virus and we are sharing our stories about our own experiences when testing. It is quite beautiful to see.
Perhaps for the first time, I don’t feel so isolated — which is ironic given the fact that a quarantine is an isolation.
We are at the epicenter of the Jewish quarantine in New York, and I have never felt so proud to be part of this community.
Tamar is an author, mother, and founder of TAMAR, a fragrance brand designed for who you are, not who they want you to be. She’s determined to show the world that the key to happiness and self improvement is loving and accepting your most authentic self first (and smelling good doing it). You can find more on Tamar at tamarweinberg.com. Read more about her experiences on Medium.