Building Stronger Connections to Judaism During a Pandemic

This post on If Not Now, When?, the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, was shared at the May 7 Shabbat Evening Service/Religious School graduate by Jessica Monahan, a Religious School Graduate and recipient of The Barnett R. Brickner Memorial Award. 

Shabbat Shalom. My name is Jessica Monahan and I am honored to receive the Rabbi Barnett Brickner Award and represent my graduating class.  All of my Jewish lifecycle events have been with Fairmount Temple clergy, starting with my baby naming almost 17 years ago. I began attending Fairmount Temple Religious School when I was in first grade, and nearly every week of the school year since, I have come to, and now this year, logged onto Religious School.  Even though some of my classmates have gone to Religious School longer or more frequently than others, I feel that we have a special connection.  This connection could be to each other personally or through our different connections within the Jewish community.  Some of my classmates are in Jewish Youth Groups like BBYO and ACTY, or have attended Jewish overnight camp together. Some of us go to high school together.  But we have all weathered the last 14 months similarly, trying to navigate life during Covid.

Our class connection was definitely strengthened by the 10th grade Confirmation trip to New York City. We had so much fun and some of my favorite memories were Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse and attending a Shabbat Service at the beautiful Central Synagogue. I am so glad we got the trip in when life was normal. The most special part of the trip was the Jewish part, but being able to bond with the clergy was very memorable too.  

Additionally on the Confirmation trip, we visited the Tenement Museum and the Lower East Side.  This is where about 75% of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800’s resided.  These immigrants sustained a connection to their faith as they continued the traditions in their new homes in America. Not only did they maintain a connection, they did this as their values were tested amidst the struggle to hold onto certain traditions in a new environment.  This country wouldn’t be where it is today without immigrants. I am grateful that my ancestors and so many others’ were able to pass on their traditions, values and even recipes!  My family had visited the Tenement Museum before and I appreciated visiting again to hear more stories.  Certainly being there with our clergy, gave me an enhanced perspective as they were able to explain to us the reasons behind certain traditions. Thinking about these immigrants who got through such difficult times yet still maintained their Jewish values is inspiring.  One of the special things about being Jewish is knowing that people around the world are lighting Shabbat candles, or having a Passover Seder, wherever they are.  Even when we went to the Central Synagogue, while we were in a completely new place, and some of the tunes were different, the prayers were still very familiar.

Anshe Chesed means “people of loving kindness” and the members of our community are truly accepting of others regardless of their differences.  The message is so important and there is such value in belonging to our congregation that respects people how they are and supports diversity.  The feeling we have at this temple of being accepted however we are strengthens us and helps us as we try to spread that “loving kindness” to others we encounter.

The pandemic has helped to shape the nature of my connection and my family’s connection to Judaism and more specifically, Shabbat activities.  Before COVID-19, my family was not able to attend Shabbat services very often, mainly because of my sister and I are involved with many activities.  But, since the pandemic, we have been able to join services on Zoom or the livestream!  We dressed up for High Holiday services and watched through Roku on our television. I have set up a projector to watch the Purim Spiel and other services on our living room and kitchen walls.  

For the future, I know that myself and my classmates are looking forward to becoming involved in Hillel, continuing to watch Fairmount Temple services virtually in college, and living our Jewish values after high school.  We may not be in Cleveland when there is a proper public goodbye to Cantor Sager, and welcome to Cantor Lapin. But as we head to college, we know that Fairmount Temple will always be there for us, wherever we are.