Never before I have felt so loved, comforted and secure. I always felt so lucky to be a part of the Jewish community and have embraced the opportunities it provides. But, over the past two weeks I have felt more connected to the community than ever before. In the past I always took our community for granted, never really thinking about it properly, I always thought “yeah I’m part of the Jewish community, it’s great to have J-Seek, and to step outside of my North Caulfield home on Shabbat and see people I know” etc. Well, over the past few weeks my perception of this has completely changed and grown.
Over the past ten months whilst my father, well known for his many communal activities, was sick with cancer I would always be stopped down Carlisle Street and asked the question of how I was going. A lot of the time I just wanted to avoid people, I didn’t want to see people and have to be questioned about the same thing. I wanted my space. Our Jewish community ghetto is unique. It’s nosey, it’s gossipy and everyone’s auntie’s brother’s wife’s cousin loves to know everything. Whilst before, I saw this as invasive and inappropriate, now looking back I feel so fortunate. So fortunate to know and feel that I have people outside of my immediate family and close circle of friends who know what’s going on and who come together to create a supportive network.
The wow factor of this community and the magnitude of support first hit me at the funeral. I was so completely overwhelmed to the point that I not only couldn’t bring myself to look up once because of the feelings and emotions I already had that day, but because I knew that looking up would mean having to see the army of people expressing their individual and shared grief. I just could not face it. Only afterwards did I hear from friends and family just how many people there were, familiar and unfamiliar faces joined together to lend support. I didn’t see it myself, but some have even said that they had never been to such a big funeral. It was only afterwards, upon hearing all of this that I really felt that sense of love and care and pride, even If I didn’t see it properly with my own eyes then and there.
And then the wow factor continued. The all encompassing nature of Shiva and the Minyanim saw hundreds of people in our house everyday. I’ve never had to interact with so many people one after the other. Day and night they were there. They came with their cheesecakes, their bagels, their falafel, their salmon, their schnitzel and their nosh. Again, it was so overwhelming how many people just cared and wanted to be there. There was no alone time, but that is the Jewish way. We were just showered with love (and food).
Our community showered us with love not only physically but as it is the social media age, technologically as well. After deciding to not turn on my phone on for the week of Shiva, turning it back on again my eyes and head could not take the screen for longer than twenty minutes – messages came through from everyone, everywhere. Together with my family, we read hundreds of messages, from members of March of The Living, to Mount Scopus alumni, to overseas friends, to volunteers from Ameinu, from Habo, from Shira Chadasha and the list goes on.
It shouldn’t be this way but during this tragic time I felt the power of our community in a way I have never before. The ironic thing is that my dad would have been in his absolute element. Shiva, the minyanim, the stories, the photos, the people, the songs – it was everything he loved.
However, even among the showering of love I knew one day we’d have to eventually go back to our new normal lives. But because of our amazing and my own personal community, I knew this whole time it wasn’t going to be a party or a social event that would be bringing me back in. Thankfully, I’m lucky to be a part of Zooz, a group for young community minded Jewish adults who express their love of Israel and Judaism weekly, and I knew this whole time, with a sense of comfort, security, love and a little bit of excitement that it was going to be Zooz, my community within the community that I’d be going back to.
I knew it would be by easing myself back into new reality alongside my smaller, meaningful network, my happy place, my people, where my spirit is most high, where my heart is most at that I would be able to continue with my life. I felt so privileged to have that one platform, among so many in the community, that I could look forward to at least once a week, in whatever way that is, that is always there when I need it.
Through all this I’ve realized that I shouldn’t take the community for granted. I have realized that the power of our belonging does not just need to be reserved for moments when tragedy strikes. While Shiva has come to an end, and my mourning will always continue, it is now the beginning of my new reality, but the nature of my Jewish community means I’m so fortunate to not be facing it alone; I’m proud to be beginning this new reality with so much support behind me.