The following speech was given by Avodah Service Corps Member Julie Schreiber at Avodah’s 2020 virtual Partners in Justice Gala.
How will we remember this time?
I ask myself this every day. During crises – or “unprecedented times,” as our bosses love to call them – we often feel a pressure to make meaning of the experiences, perhaps to make them a little more bearable to live through.
The easy answer? We will remember this time as an intimate merging of our work lives and our home lives. Ten weeks in quarantine with twelve of my housemates has shown me who drinks the most coffee, who wears the same pajamas every day, who spends all day on phone calls or Zoom chats, and who’s found time to sneak in a few novels or bake a loaf or two of sourdough.
But more importantly, our emergency, quarantine lifestyle has shown me that the commitment each one of us has to working from home and meeting our clients’ needs is the same commitment we have to supporting one another. We are all dedicated to meeting the needs of our clients, coworkers, and fellow Corps Members in whatever crazy, creative, and “unprecedented” ways we can.
During work hours, we “sign out” each others’ bedrooms for team meetings and conference calls, we attend one another’s virtual campaigns and canvasses, and we refer our clients to each others’ organizations. After work hours, we play guitar and sing summer camp songs, binge-watch bad TV, and never let a birthday go uncelebrated. And the reason why we take this approach to both our work lives and our home lives is because of a shared belief among all of us that life is, undoubtedly, enhanced by community.
And this devotion to community, for each of us, is inseparable from our Judaism. Each one of us was brought to this house and to this service year because of transformative and illuminating experiences we had in our Jewish upbringings. These experiences showed us that communities are lifelines, families, and linchpins of identity and belonging. And the gratitude to have been, and to continue to be, part of such robust Jewish communities is exactly what has compelled us to reach outside Jewish spaces and stand in solidarity with a variety of underserved communities in Chicago.
So, how will we, members of the Chicago Bayit, remember this time?
We will remember that, during a dangerous pandemic and an episode of global isolation, we embraced that crucial Jewish tenet of community. We dressed up for tea party-themed Shabbat dinners and made watercolor prints for our walls. We tried our best, amid “unprecedented” hurdles, to meet the swelling needs of Chicago’s undernourished communities. And we learned, and relearned, and relearned some more, that even in the worst of times, life is always best lived together.