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Alone Together

Last Shabbat I saw all my friends. I went from house to house, schmoozing and celebrating the wonderful community I've become a part of here. Saturday night all the children came to the synagogue, and my amazing teen volunteers helped run a movie night. Three of our community Rabbis came to lead Havdallah for the children. I came home exhausted (I'd been out enjoying Shabbat since 9:00 o'clock that morning), but feeling so full from all my wonderful experiences that weekend.

Sunday morning I stayed home. The first day was a bit rough, but I soon carved out a routine. Yoga and meditation in the morning, a bit of work, a bit of knitting, a lot of catching up with my friends around the world who I never get enough time to talk to. My boss drove me to the supermarket and I spent time organizing all my cans - sauces on one side, pastas on the other.

Monday I actually went into work for a bit, running our monthly bagel lunch in one of the local high schools. The kids laughed as I handed out single-use knives for spreading the cream cheese, instructing them to throw them out and take another if they wanted a second bagel. Those kids are finished school now, some of them forever. I took an extra-large pump of hand sanitizer on my way out of the school.

Tuesday I stayed home. My office was already in full swing, laying out an intensive schedule of Zoom meetings to keep us connected. Expecting it, I had brought home all of my work things Monday afternoon - my computer, the snacks from my snack drawer, the little photos of friends and family pinned up on the wall. I walked around, grabbing whatever I could and putting it in a bag - paintbrushes, reading material, glue sticks - whatever might come in handy over the next however long I would be sitting at home.

The week went quickly. Work transitioned easily, and even though we're not running in-person programmes at the moment, there's lots to do online, including exploring how we can best contribute to the over-flowing market of online Jewish content designed for social distancing. Every morning I sit out on the driveway, playing guitar. The school children stopped to watch as they made their way to class. They won't be coming by anymore.

My friends and I all live very close together, so we stop by each others' front yards on our daily walks. We sit on opposite sides of the driveway catching up, and discussing the state of the world. It's our nature to offer food and drinks to each other, but we don't. We just sit and take in the physical presence, the experience of talking to someone in person rather than through a screen.

Shabbat was fast approaching, and I realized that I'd been invited out for Shabbat meals every single Shabbat since moving to Scotland, over six months ago. In India I used to cook big Shabbat meals and have all my friends over, but I hadn't baked a challah since leaving India in August. I stopped by the cornerstore. They were out of yeast. So was the big grocery store on the main road, and every other shop I stopped in to this week.

A friend gave me an extra jar she had, and I set to work. Friday night I lit my Shabbat candle and settled down with matza ball soup, salads and vegetables, and of course, my little challahs. Shabbat was long. All week I had been doing things, working, shifting, making, building, but on Shabbat all there was to do was sit and read and eat matza ball soup and think. I think that's when it hit me, that everything was so different. The week was fun. Shabbat was lonely.

Friday afternoon we organized for the Rabbi of the synagogue to lead an online Kabbalat Shabbat service for the congregation. Over sixty families signed on, from Glasgow, Edinburgh, England, America and beyond. Everybody was smiling. School children, kept home from their friends, waved to each other through their screens, babies smiled, grandparents sat and enjoyed. People who never come for Kabbalat Shabbat joined in, singing Lecha Dodi together as a community.

Saturday morning it was apparent how important shul is to our lives. I woke up and had nothing to do, nowhere to be. The synagogue is the gathering place for our small community, and the time huddled around our kiddush tables is often the social high point of the week. Saturday afternoon, a few of my friends and I went to the park. We walked spread across the road to maintain our social distance. It wasn't a problem, there were no cars out on the streets.

It's remarkable how quickly the world has changed in the last few weeks. A month ago I had hardly heard of Coronavirus. I remember my mom warning me of something far off in China and me brushing it off as something of little concern to my busy life here in Scotland. Three weeks ago I travelled to Canada to speak at Limmud Winnipeg. I remember scrubbing my hands in the airport, eating my Timmies with the wrapper instead of touching it with my hands.

We celebrated Purim together only two weeks ago, dancing and passing around mishloach manot as a community. Even then I remember washing my hands well before eating, but it was business as usual. Last Shabbat we were all together, sharing food, sharing hugs, unaware that some of us would be going into isolation the very next day.

I'm making the most of this. I'm finding ways to connect, to learn, to distance and to grow. I'm watching as the world changes, drastically, in the tiny space of a week. I've been feeling very grateful for the amazing community here in Glasgow, and how warmly I've been welcomed into it. And even though I'm alone, as the Rabbi said in his sermon Friday afternoon, we're all alone, together.

*The photos included in this post are little snapshots into my life this past week at home, and the spaces I'm trying to create for myself

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