RIJHA wants to hear about your pandemic life


As the keeper of Rhode Island’s Jewish history these past 70 years, the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association (RIJHA) wants to preserve the community’s thoughts and memories of life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These reflections on the effect of the virus on Jewish life and descriptions of how businesses and organizations responded to the challenge will be published in a “memory book” that will be distributed to the community. The book also will be added to RIJHA’s archives, making it a resource for future generations.

RIJHA is interested in hearing from private citizens as well as leaders of synagogues, Jewish organizations and businesses. The essays could address such question as:

How did your Jewish life change in observing, for instance, Shabbat, the High Holy Days, the seder, life-cycle events and festivals? What did you find most challenging? What surprised you? What life lessons did you learn?

What could future generations learn from your organization or business in the time of COVID-19? What was most challenging? What stayed the same and what had to change? How did you manage?

The COVID-19 essays should be no longer than one single-spaced page of 12-point type and can be emailed to office@rijha.org or sent through the mail to RIJHA, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence, RI 02906. Your name, address and phone number are required. Only your name will be published, or the essay can be published anonymously.

RIJHA has long preserved history, and with the Jewish community’s help, it can now also record how we coped during this historical period.

The following essay, by Ruth Breindel, past president of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association, can serve as an example.

Pesach 2020 comes in a totally different format.  We sit at our computers, on Zoom, reading the Haggadah we downloaded and singing songs together – a family that rarely sees each other.

My older son and his family are in Massachusetts, and my granddaughter, as the youngest, says the Four Questions in Hebrew.  My younger son, in Chicago, is logged in, and his children, who are quite young, wander in and out.

My cousin logs in from Birmingham, Alabama; I haven’t seen her in person in several years.  Her daughters, one in Chicago and one in New York City, Zoom in; I have seen them recently.  My other cousin, in Tucson, Arizona, is there with her husband; I can’t remember the last time I saw them!

We tailor the service to our specifications, omitting some passages and adding in our own.  The seder meal is there, but we each eat by ourselves.

In some ways, it was very good, as we, who rarely get together, had the opportunity to celebrate together. On the other hand, I missed the hustle and bustle of cooking and hosting the family.

Pesach 2021 is totally different again. The first day is a seder with me and a friend; we have it as an afternoon tea, without much food.  It’s a new experience for me, since without the bustle of preparing the meal, I can read through the whole Haggadah – something I have never been able to do, as I am usually in the kitchen after the meal, washing dishes, etc.  I really enjoy reading it with her, and, again, doing the service as we want to.

Since we are now vaccinated, for the second seder, I can be together with some of the family – although I can’t go to Chicago, or any place by plane.

Massachusetts has a ban on its residents leaving the state (how weird is that?), but I can go there (OK, I know this makes no sense at all).  So I travel to that family, with the soup and the matzoh balls, the gefilte fish and, most important, the family-tradition walnut cake (with whipped cream and strawberries, which is a real hit with the children).

Because my older son is a rabbi, he is at services in the morning, and we all eat lunch at different times.  The seder begins at 3, so that I can come home before dark.  We call it a Seder Tea (you’re getting the picture of what we like to do). We eat the traditional foods I brought, along with their two types of haroset, and the cake, of course.

Again, my granddaughter does a great job with the Four Questions, and we all play with the little green frogs I have brought (from Dollar Tree, my favorite store for this type of thing).

The service is again pared down to the attention span of the kids (not to mention the adults), and it is a wonderful time.  This is as it should be – family, together in person.

What will Pesach 2022 be like?  It’s not in our hands ….