Building connections while we’re separated

With the World Health Organization declaring a coronavirus “pandemic” this week, we are all entering a new and difficult phase of this challenge to normal life. Earlier this week, in response to Governor Baker declaring a public health emergency here in Massachusetts, JCRC began taking significant steps to limit in-person social interactions through our staff and programs. Today, Friday, we have moved to a remote workplace for an extended period in the near future.

Of course, we’re not alone in these steps. Institutions, congregations, and businesses across our community are also taking these steps. And because we’re listening to the experts, experienced professionals in public health, we understand that we all have a role and a responsibility to “flatten the curve” on the spread of this virus.

Without diminishing the urgency and importance of every step we can take to minimize transmission, it’s not easy. Not touching our faces is hard, even unnatural, for human beings. So is profound social distancing. Ours is a community and society of gatherers; baked into the DNA of Jewish community is the notion that we need to be together as ten adults to perform some of our most sacred rituals. Our nation’s foundational document protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” as part of our first constitutional freedoms.

As one pastor put it on a recent Zoom call with our Christian partners, separating ourselves from our neighbors goes against everything we believe in. At the same time, our tradition tells us that whoever saves one life (even at the expense of other good deeds), it is as if we had saved the world. And every health expert is telling us that physical distancing will save lives.

So here we are. I worry, not just for my own family and for our staff and friends, but for our society. In the midst of one of the most vicious electoral cycles in our modern history, the last thing we needed was large-scale isolation and dependence on social media for news and engagement. When I see pushes online of “things to do in quarantine,” like a booklist that pushes a specific worldview or narrative, I worry about us amplifying our self-confirming biases. And most of all, as someone with good health and a salaried income, with paid sick leave and health care, I worry about the more vulnerable who enter this challenge without the same resources and resiliency.

If you share these concerns, I invite you to join me in committing to building bridges and connections even as we separate ourselves physically. I’m committing myself in the coming weeks:

  • For each event that is postponed, I will reach out and FaceTime with someone with whom I don’t connect regularly.
  • I will read books that challenge my worldviews and expose me to new ideas, whether those be volumes making the case for perspectives I’m disinclined to share, or novels that take me into cultures other than my own.
  • Every day that I am working from home I will use my social media platform to lift up examples of people who are doing good deeds and practicing bridge-building in ways that are responsible for this moment.

Over the coming days, our team will  be rolling out a number of ways to stay connected to and supportive of our partners – from the Israeli/Palestinian coexistence groups who are canceling spring visits to the US to the kids in local under-resourced public schools who work with our literacy tutors. We’ll be mobilizing in support of vulnerable immigrants, many of whom don’t have healthcare and depend on hourly wages, and for policies providing relief to the hardest hit, including some of our vendors in the hospitality industries.

And, I want us to stay connected with you. Tell us how you are taking steps to maintain and build connections in the weeks ahead. What books are you reading? How are you helping our neighbors? How are you touching the lives of others even as we cut down on physical engagement?

Inspire me. And help us inspire others to be the good neighbors we all need to be right now.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy