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Menachem’s Guide to Surviving Isolation or Quarantine
As more and more of us are heading into isolation, whether due to actual infection or out of caution, we are facing the prospect of spending days upon days with little or no face-to-face social interaction.
G‑d made us humans social. Sure we like time alone (introverts raise your hands!), but we are not programmed to exist in a vacuum. To quote G‑d Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
So how are we going to make it through what may be a rough few weeks? Here are some personal tips and hacks I hope you’ll find useful.
A friend pointed out that quarantine has never been quite as pleasant as it is for us today. The miracles of refrigeration, telecommunication, and modern heating mean that the vast majority of us are spending our alone time in a warm and brightly-lit home, with unlimited access to information and virtual socialization, and a supply of fresh, healthy food we can prepare with relative ease.
A few generations ago, this would have been unthinkable.
In fact, we would probably not even know that the virus existed in the first place until we found ourselves sick. Thank G‑d, we know that there is a dangerous virus spreading around the earth and our medical community has the information we need to protect ourselves and our neighbors.
And perhaps even more important: Many of us are able to work remotely, remaining productive and helpful to others even in isolation.
What a blessing! No commute. Stay among the people you love the most. Work in your own private space.
Jewish prayer is traditionally communal, with a quorum of 10 men. But what are we to do when we cannot make it to the synagogue (or if the synagogues have been closed)? This was the exact quandary faced by the prophet Daniel when King Darius outlawed praying to G‑d. What did he do? “And Daniel, when he knew that a writ had been inscribed, came to his house, where there were open windows in his upper chamber, opposite Jerusalem, and three times a day he kneeled on his knees and prayed and offered thanks before his G‑d just as he had done prior to this.”
No matter where we are in the world, we can turn toward Jerusalem and pray.
Wondering when to hold services? Actually, the best time to do so is at the same time as your local congregation (if they are still holding prayers). That way, you’re praying in tandem, even though you cannot see each other.
If you do not have a Siddur at home, ask your local Chabad rabbi about getting one, or download the Siddur App (to use every day except Shabbat).
Open the Windows
While Jews do not make it a point to pray with an open window facing Jerusalem like Daniel, opening the windows while quarantined is important.
Letting in some sunshine and getting a peek at the outside world can do wonders for what may be an otherwise gray existence. And when the weather permits, fresh air is healthy for your mood as well as your physical health.
Friends and relatives may even come to visit you from outside those windows (if that is allowed where you live). Yes, it can feel a little like a penitentiary visit—but it’s still refreshing. Place a bench and/or chairs out there for them to sit down.
Pick Up the Phone!
Our generation has been blessed with the ability to converse with (and even see!) family and friends all over the world. Make calling others part of your daily routine.
You can be sure that just as you enjoy the connection and togetherness that a phone call engenders, you are bringing that same pleasure to whoever is on the other end of the line.
Chatting is great and important, but you can make your phone calls all the more meaningful if you use some of the time to learn Torah together. You can use your time to read an article or study something on Chabad.org, or you perhaps read from any Torah book you both have (or can access online).
Don’t have anyone to learn with? Sign up to be matched with an over-the-phone Torah-study partner with common interests, language, and schedule.
We humans need to be needed. But what to do when you are far from others? You give charity.
Isaiah, the great prophet of peace, compared giving charity to donning a suit of armor. Each contribution you make, no matter how small, provides a shield of protection against illness. Likewise, the Book of Proverbs tells us that “charity saves from death.”
Even if you cannot go out and do favors for others at the moment, you can designate funds to be used for that purpose. Put a coin in a charity box every weekday and an additional one before Shabbat candle-lighting on Friday afternoons. Don’t have cash on hand? Today, most charities collect online. There are even apps for giving, including ones that direct funds to Jewish charities.
Savor a Hot Drink
I am not sure why this made it to my list, but it seems to fit right in. As one who works alone for most of the day, I know firsthand that a soothing, hot drink can become a wonderful experience, something to savor and uplift the grayest afternoons.
And besides, keeping hydrated is one of the recommendations for fortifying ourselves against infection.
Oh, and before you take that first sip, say the blessing, in which we acknowledge G‑d, “by Whose word all things came to be.”
Listen to Music
Music is a powerful pick-me-up and can help fill the emptiness of a quiet house. Chassidic music speaks to the soul in a special way, ranging from upbeat to pensive, and always soulful. Looking for a stream of curated tracks? We’ve got you covered!
Create a Routine and Stick to It
When Moses ascended Mount Sinai for 40 days, he didn’t eat or drink, and he certainly didn’t have any human contact. Yet the sages tell us he kept track of the passage of days by listening to the praises sung by the angels.
After days and weeks in isolation, it’s easy to feel like you are on a never-ending hamster wheel. It can be helpful to designate landmarks to demarcate the passing of time and give you something to look forward to.
So plan in advance. Decide what time you’ll pray, when you’ll have your meals, when you’ll study Torah, take a nap, etc., so that one day does not bleed seamlessly into the next.
Also make yourself a calendar, on which you can mark off Shabbat, Jewish birthdays, and even Passover (yes Passover is coming!).
Exercise Your Positivity Muscles
Medical experts and Chassidic masters all agree that staying positive and full of faith can help you maintain your good health, keep up your immune system and even recover more quickly from illness.
Upping our happiness is an art, one that we can learn and perfect with practice and patience.
Not sure where to start? Here are two simple steps:
Tell yourself: Everything is in G‑d’s hands; He loves me, and I am going to be OK.
Repeat as often as necessary.
Get Ready for Passover
You may not have been planning to spend Passover at home, or perhaps you were. Regardless, if you will be home for Passover, spend some time now to get yourself and your home ready. Give the house a deep clean (which is probably a good idea from a medical perspective in any case), make online orders for Passover supplies (as we are learning, earlier is better), and start converting your house into a Passover home.
Remember: You Are Never Alone
Even when there is no one to call and no one to chat with, remember that there is Someone watching over you, a Being who is intimately aware of your struggles and your suffering. He cares about you and is watching over you.
Now, all of the above assumes you are alone. Perhaps even more challenging is being stuck at home with a tribe of little ones. What are you to do then? That, dear reader, is above my pay grade.