Natalie Mendelsohn is learning virtually this year. (The Conversation)

Differing Realities

I once felt a sense of unity knowing everyone’s lives were put on hold by the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, but as months have rolled by our once parallel “lockdown” realities have shifted dramatically. For me, not much has changed since the initial lockdown in March. Here in Northern California, my school is still online and all school-related activities remain on pause. My school has no plans to return to in-person learning. I am socially distanced from my friends and extended family. While I have started to venture to Trader Joe’s again, I am still very much “locked down.”

Scrolling through my social media feeds, I see all types of experiences that differ from mine.  Some teenagers have returned to school, partially or full time. Some have been able to start training again with their sports teams. Some are “merged” or “podded” with friends. Some are travelling by planes and others by car. And, some of us are grieving great losses of loved ones lost to this horrible pandemic. Our lives look extremely different from one another at this moment in time. 

I have talked to friends about their current Covid situations. Julia, who lives in Arizona, has returned to school. “The halls are barely socially distanced and no one is enforcing it,” Julia said. Arizonans are observing a broad range of precautions and everyone has different comfort levels. While Julia has been able to return to a somewhat normal social setting, she feels a constant threat of contracting Covid-19 and gets tested frequently to have peace of mind.  

Sloan lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also facing a very different reality than me. Georgia was one of the first states to start opening up again and Sloan’s school returned in-person at the beginning of the school year. “We are required to keep masks on at all times — failure to do so can result in suspension. We even have to go outside the building to drink water,” she commented. While these precautions seem extreme, Sloan’s school has been able to remain open and in-person. Through the pandemic, Sloan has had the in-person support of her friends and family that others lack. But the pandemic is never far, lurking even when she needs water.

We all are living such different lives, and yet we are all experiencing history first hand. I have noticed social media becoming a toxic and unwelcoming place during Covid-19. I constantly see aggressive comments on users’ posts by people who aren’t wearing masks or who attend large social gatherings. It is difficult to understand that we all have unique circumstances and situations regarding the pandemic. 

Even in our own Jewish community there is a large spectrum of precautions everyone is taking. My synagogue,Temple Beth Abraham, has been holding outdoor services since June. During the High Holy Days, I read Torah outside, which was live streamed to a Facebook Live feed for the congregation to watch from home. Every reader had their own Torah to follow along in, so they could stay socially distanced.In J, a weekly Jewish publication, an article about in-person Shabbat services discussed the desire by members of the Conservative movement to pray together, and the different responses synagogue leaders have taken to “respond to a variety of emotional and spiritual needs in our community.”  We’ve also seen the chasidic Jewish community in New York nationally shamed and ridiculed for blatantly ignoring Covid-19 guidelines. The chasidic communities of New York were hit hard by the pandemic in its early days, but after a period of caution many of their synagogues and schools began to flout city and state Covid regulations. Recently, a chasidic Satmar synagogue in Brooklyn held a secret wedding where 7,000 guests exceeded the building’s occupancy. 

In these difficult times, we remember that everyone has different emotional, spiritual, and health needs. I believe we all need to carry more empathy than ever before. At the same time, we must remain united despite our differing experiences: united as a people who focus on doing what we can to keep everyone safe. As the Talmud tells us “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba zeh” – All Jews are responsible for one another.

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