RIJHA to create a ‘memory book’ of our pandemic lives


In September, the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association sent out 400 letters to its members inviting them to write an essay about how their Jewish life has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And Jewish Rhode Island ran an article about the project, in a section called “Community,” because RIJHA’s hope is that the entire Jewish community, not just its members, will want to participate in creating a “memory book” of this difficult and historic time.

RIJHA envisions the book as a valuable resource for both the present and future. If you would like to participate, please limit your essay to one single-spaced page of 12-point type, and be sure to include your name, address and phone number with your submission. Only your name will be published, or the essay can be published anonymously. Please submit your essay either by email, to office@rijha.org, or mail it to RIJHA, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence, RI 02906.

The article in the September issue of Jewish Rhode Island included an essay by Ruth Breindel as an example; it told how the pandemic has altered the observance of Shabbat, the High Holy Days, Pesach, life-cycle events and festivals for her family.

Elizabeth Bakst, chair of the RIJHA Membership Committee, wrote the following essay to offer another example.

When we – I and my husband Charlie – first entered COVID-19 lockdown in Rhode Island in March of 2020, we had been enjoying crowded Red Sox spring training baseball games in Florida, where no one was paying much attention to the deadly virus. Then our daughter and her husband phoned from more-aware New Jersey and ordered us to go home to Providence, as they put it, “while planes are still flying.”

Once back in R.I., our other daughter delivered groceries to our door, since it was deemed unsafe for us 70-somethings to be around others inside stores.  She just rang the bell and ran away as we waved our thanks to her for making the 40-minute trip from her home in Massachusetts to ours in Providence.

Stay inside except for walks with only each other? Who could have imagined such a thing? Fortunately for us, both of our daughters could, and so that is what we did.

We became accustomed to life lived online. We watched weekly Shabbat services streamed from Temple Habonim in Barrington, where our rabbi and our song leader led those at home from the bimah in an otherwise empty sanctuary.

We attended a Zoom funeral online, from Shalom Memorial Chapel in Cranston, in the summer of 2021.  A few weeks later, we watched a Zoom wedding, where the couple stood under a huppah in a mostly deserted Texas backyard.

Some vaccinated and masked congregants attended High Holy Day services in person this year, but we followed 5782 Rosh Hashanah services on Charlie’s iPad and my iPhone. Temple Habonim lent us copies of the High Holy Days prayer books.

In 2020, we set up deliveries via Instacart, and also relied on Amazon. We isolated ourselves safely inside and took long walks on empty streets.

The nearby deserted campus of Brown University, where we are alumni, became our private preserve in 2020.

Invisible workers kept us well-supplied. We will be forever grateful to those workers! We also recognize that many systemic inequities kept us safe and comfortable while others were neither.

Now, the need for tikkun olam has never been more apparent as we slog through yet another year of COVID-19.

As I write this in the fall of 2021, we no longer walk around the Brown campus now that it is once again buzzing with students. We do go out in the world more often now that we are vaccinated, but masks and social distancing are still a part of our lives.

The story of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding. I write this not sure whether Thanksgiving 2021 or the seder in 2022 will be an in-person family celebration or again take place via Zoom, as it did in 2020, when family members signed in from four states.  All members of our family are vaccinated, but we are all uncertain about travel.

May the next year, 5783, allow me to write a different report!