I live in a small town outside of Jerusalem where I had the opportunity to experience the healing powers of community first hand. We were hit with the coronavirus hard and early. The leaders of the community immediately shut down the town — locking the synagogues, closing the schools, restricting entrance to residents only, and asking everyone to remain in their homes a full week before these measures were taken elsewhere in the country. These swift and strict measures stopped the spread of the virus in its tracks and all those who were originally diagnosed have since recovered, with no new cases reported in weeks.
Those efforts addressed the physical spread of the infection. What about the emotional effects which have also been serious and sometimes debilitating? The uncertain nature of this virus brings with it considerable anxiety, difficulty sleeping, difficulty with emotional regulation, and often loneliness. We tend to feel secure when our world is predictable, and very little is predictable now. While some people have been able to work or learn via Zoom, that’s not always an option and even when it is an option, it can be difficult with kids running underfoot. No one knows the nature of this virus, how long it will be with us, and what that means for our futures socially and financially.
A strong sense of community is very comforting during these times. That the leaders were able to act quickly and with authority is comforting. It gives a sense that someone is in charge and we can trust them. On the first Shabbat we were locked down, the community center delivered a Shabbat package to every household which included reading material for adults, games for children and a challah for the family. Here, as in most communities, people went outside to sing Ma Nishtanah during the Seder and some made their Kiddush so others who were alone could also hear. Music on flatbed trucks was provided during chol hamoed and again on Lag B’Omer, and Shabbat packages have continued to be delivered. Huge boxes of groceries are delivered to all seniors so they won’t have to venture out of their homes and prepared meals are provided for those unable to cook.
“It takes a village” not just to raise a child, but to care for all people. First, we have to make sure that everyone is physically safe. Once that is accomplished, the community can do a lot to help people manage the ongoing emotional effects of this continuing virus. Neighbors reaching out to neighbors creates a sense of “we,” which dispels the frightening feeling of isolation and gets us away from a preoccupation with our own thoughts. These packages from the community center say loud and clear: “We know you’re there and we care about you – we know it’s hard and we want to help.”
Professionals are available via Zoom to help manage emotional difficulties for those who need additional support or guidance, including at Kav L’Noar, and as a clinician, I strongly encourage people to reach out. In addition, let us not forget how much we can also help simply by being there for our neighbors. May we all be healthy and feel safe and secure in our own communities.