PHOTO: OJMCHE archivist Alisha Babbstein interviews Rabbi Rachel Joseph of Congregation Beth Israel. Rabbi Joseph talks about her experiences early in 2020, specifically how COVID-19 radically altered her wedding plans. She also talks about how the pandemic has affected her work as a rabbi at a large congregation. She also discusses attending the protests and how important voting is.
BY DEBORAH MOON
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education seeks community members to participate in Chronicling These Times, a project of the Council of American Jewish Museums to record Jewish stories from the pandemic.
More than 230 Oregonians from ages 13 to 99 already have shared their stories with OJMCHE during phase one of the project. This second phase will run until February 2022.
“For those of you who have not yet joined in, we invite you to become part of a national project that will provide a snapshot for researchers and future generations of the Jewish experience during these unprecedented times,” says OJMCHE archivist Alisha Babbstein.
“We still want to capture any and all voices who are interested in participating,” she adds. “That said, we’d love to have a few more participants in the 20-40 age range.”
Two trends emerged during the first round of interviews.
“Many people have talked about baking challah for the first time and starting new family traditions or coming back to an old family tradition because they found that they had more time to bake,” says Alisha. “I loved hearing people talk about joining friends and family on Zoom calls as they baked on Friday afternoons – trying new flavors, new recipes, new methods of braiding, and all the photos being shared.”
Staying home and doing fewer activities allowed people to slow down – not just to bake but also to rethink their priorities.
“The frantic pace many of us kept before COVID came to a forced, screeching halt last March – no school, no extracurriculars, no work out of the house, no eating out,” says Alisha. “Many participants report that their families spend more time together, they talk about more together, they eat meals together for the first time in years. It’s been nice to hear people have had the chance to slow down, and I’ve loved hearing how many of them are determined to maintain as much of the slow pace as they can when things return to some semblance of normal.”
Alisha was also struck by a moment she feels captured what many felt and experienced in the early months of the pandemic. A woman speaking about calling her sister on her birthday reflected the fear, the uncertainty, the inability to put into words everything we were feeling.
“So, I called my sister at the end of August (it was her birthday). And this was the only time that I really acknowledged what was going on. Really. I called her, I said, ‘happy birthday.’ She said, ‘yeah.’ And she started laughing. … Then I started laughing and then I started crying, then she started crying. I mean we were hysterical. It was just kind of like, ‘yeah, happy birthday.’ Some moment that we really acknowledged that this is really terrible.”
Many participants also spoke about how their children have internalized COVID. Some kids insist dolls and make-believe friends need to have masks on and stay physically distanced. “They talk about their kids hiding behind their legs or holding their breath when they pass other people in public, even when they have masks on,” says Alisha. “It’s rather tragic. And we can hope only temporary.”
OJMCHE is one of 18 collecting repositories from New York to Portland partnering with CAJM. The project uses the TheirStory video recording platform, which works much like Zoom and requires no prior knowledge or software from the person being interviewed. Trained volunteers record online interviews with community members as they ask questions relevant to the pandemic, the political landscape, the vaccine and plans for moving forward. The online interview takes less than an hour.
To participate or for more information, contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.