What’s next? Our communal struggle post-Covid unpacked

What kind of spiritual, religious, and Jewish “home” do we need post-pandemic? What should we be asking for, maybe even demanding, after all of this soul searching?
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A message of hope. (David Holmes/Flickr)

I’ve been thinking a lot about home recently.

For example, what should home “feel like?” Is it where the heart is? Or is it just a place to hang your hat?

Obviously, we’ve all been spending a lot of time in our homes this past year. We’ve nested in every possible nook and cranny, taking vacations in the kitchen, with unscheduled layovers in our living rooms, only to find ourselves delayed once again in our beds.

We’ve traded old worn routines for new less exciting ones. We’ve traded the thrill of the outside for the safety of our own walls. And as the intrigue of self-isolation quickly wore off we found ourselves with nothing left to do but to dig deeper for meaning and purpose as the walls of our homes slowly closed in on us. (As one friend said, I’ve done enough soul searching and introspection this year to last a lifetime. Agreed.)

Our homes became our sanctuaries and then our prisons. My small Brooklyn flat went from a place where I would “just hang my hat” at, to a home with a heart in it (albeit a quirky one), to a suffocating mess of thoughts.

Much can be said about my spirituality, my religiosity and our Jew-ishness as well.

Pre-pandemic spirituality was a different thing for me, now in the last days of our shared global crisis I, along with many others, am wondering what’s next?

“What’s next” is a hard question to ask because it isn’t as easy of a fix as my physical home needs (that problem is easily solved with getting a new apartment- which I am doing), so what about the rest?

What kind of spiritual, religious, and Jewish “home” do we need post-pandemic? What should we be asking for, maybe even demanding, after all of this soul searching? This is our communal struggle as Jews post-Covid.

Even Drake seems to have channeled some of his Jewish guilt and anxiety during quarantine, writing in his latest single: “Yeah I probably should go to Yeshiva, we went to Ibiza.”

I hear you Drake… Yeshiva probably would have better prepared me for all of the mental wrestling I’ve done this past year too.

We are the people who wrestle with angels and little did we know that this drama would play out on repeat over and over (and over) again in our homes for weeks and months on end.

We wrestled with some incredible highs… friends got engaged, married, babies were born… life went on in some strangely very normal ways. But we also wrestled with some unbelievable lows (my grandfather who survived the Nazis succumbed to Covid in January weeks before a vaccine rollout, he is among the hundreds of thousands gone too soon) and confronted some very real fears.

Our wrestling produced tears of joy! I’ll never forget 10 of us from shul making minyan in the park for a socially distanced summer wedding, me smiling under my mask holding a phone near the chuppah so the couple’s family could watch.

But our wrestling also produced tears of anguish and distress. I’ve witnessed the strongest of humans break down and cry… be it from loss, or stress, or for no other reason than yes it is hard out there these days. Erev Pesach 2020, a neighbor with tears in his eyes saying it was just so hard. He wasn’t wrong.

A socially distanced funeral in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, April 24, 2020. (Photo: John Kunza/Jewish Unpacked)

And here we are, once again, staring down another Passover and we are still in a global pandemic… but there is hope and a promise for a return to normalcy soon.

Passover is a symbolic time for all of us and that meaning wasn’t lost on me when I picked a time to launch Unpacked. We are emerging from a world where, for a time, there were no synagogues legally opened in the United States, to having heartfelt conversations today on what Jewish life should look like tomorrow post-Covid.

Every synagogue in the United Sates for the first time ever was closed in spring of 2020 (Screengrab: Forward.com)

(After spending nearly 9 months davening outside in all types of weather, including 3 feet of snow, I can tell you I have a greater appreciation for the mishkan and permanent structures.)

Since June of 2020, members of the Prospect Heights Shul davened socially distanced in lot in Brooklyn during all kinds of weather. (Photo: Rabbi Jon Leener/Facebook)

Just because our proverbial days of mental wandering and wrestling are coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that the need to unpack all of this will go away anytime soon. We aren’t in the Promised Land yet.

We are the generation destined to talk about the pandemic for the rest of our lives… but that also means we are in control of how the world looks like in its wake. The end of this pandemic is just the first step, and we at Unpacked are here for the important steps that will follow.

We all have questions. We all are going to be processing this past year together for a long time. We also know that we are all eager to move on and create the best possible world we can post-Covid. Layered on top of this, we are all uniquely “Jew-ish” and we understand that our unique understanding of the world deserves a uniquely Jewish approach.

Here at Unpacked our foundation is built on the belief that nuanced insights make the world a better place. The home we are trying to build seeks to reveal the hidden, to teach without being trapped in a black and white world view. We try to lean into the conflict of ideas so we can bring out insights. We believe that the journey to self discovery is led by inquiry.

For many of us (myself included), pre-pandemic we took our “Jewish homes” for granted — it was more of a place for us to “hang our hats at.” And although this year has brought much disruption, pain and suffering, I am grateful that in the midst of it all my Jewish home became a place truly where my heart is at, and I hope what we are building here at Unpacked is a reflection of that.

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