BY JAKE SULLIVAN
Moishe House Portland is a home-based young adult Jewish community based in NE Portland. In a typical month, the residents of the house (my four housemates and I) host seven programs for our peers in Portland, ranging from Shabbat dinners to Jewish learning evenings to tikkun olam outings to holiday parties. Gathering in-person is a core part of how we usually build community, so the COVID-19 quarantine has posed challenges for us but also opened up unexpected opportunities.
Moishe House headquarters, which supports houses like ours around the world, has temporarily halted its requirement for us to host in-person programming and is instead supporting us to host as many virtual programs as we want. So far, some of the virtual programs we have put on include a Shabbat candle lighting hosted by two of our community members, a virtual game night and a morning coffee hour.
In May we are planning on a remote dance workout with the community and are considering ideas like virtual Havdalah and live cooking demos. We also maintain a Facebook group where community members can connect, share and pose questions. One of my favorite remarks in the group recently was “Anyone need a shankbone for Passover? I’ve got four.” We also saw community members helping each other find virtual Passover seders to attend or creating one together.
Unlike during a typical month where our programs take place in our home or in public spaces around Portland, all our programs are currently virtual so participation doesn’t depend on physical proximity. This has allowed certain individuals to engage who wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For instance we recently had a community member who had moved to California join us for a virtual Shabbat. We also now can host asynchronous programs where people participate over a period of time rather than being together all at once. An example is Show Us Your Quarantine, a program where community members shared day-in-the-life photos and videos over the course of a whole day.
From the conversations I have had with young adults in our community, everyone is experiencing the quarantine differently. Personally my emotions have oscillated from fear, frustration and grief to feelings of peace, presence and gratitude. Some of us are struggling through being sick or losing our source of income, while others are feeling relief at the opportunity to work from home. A few people told me they are enjoying the peace and quiet, or the time and space away from a job or other commitment. I have also heard stories of community members reconnecting with physically distant friends or family, including spending Passover with family (virtually) when they would not have otherwise.
Having a slower and more deliberate pace of life during quarantine has provided an opportunity for the Moishe House residents to connect as friends, outside of our usual role as co-hosts of programs. To me this has been one of the biggest silver linings: daily walks, movie nights and reflective Shabbat dinners together. It’s helped ground me through waves of emotion, and kept our team going in pursuit of creating space for the young adult community to grow and flourish.
For more information about what Moishe House Portland is up to and to see our upcoming programs, check out our Facebook page or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
Jake Sullivan has been a resident of Portland's Moishe House for nearly 3½ years.