When we took the initial steps toward isolation at the start of the pandemic, many of us may have acknowledged in theory that these restrictions could be in place for an extended amount of time. My sense, though, is that we are only now realizing the actual implications of how this is affecting our lives in practice. As the pandemic endures, we are now feeling the toll that being in isolation can take. Undoubtedly, this new normal has affected all of us to some degree, but I am concerned that–particularly in the Jewish community–it is becoming too easy to forget about people who are single.
Many single people are struggling with similar problems as those who are married, such as life/work balance and the challenge of maintaining stability in this time of immense disruption. However, they are treading this path alone, without the help or support of other household members.
Many single people are struggling with similar problems as those who are married, such as life/work balance and the challenge of maintaining stability in this time of immense disruption. However, they are treading this path alone, without the help or support of other household members. Furthermore, with the unemployment rate skyrocketing due to pandemic closures, this is a particularly precarious time for someone to be without a life partner–someone who is not working may be almost entirely isolated without the opportunity to connect with coworkers or work clients.
Orthodox Judaism in particular can already pose challenges for singles, since much of the culture and values hinge on family life. With the pandemic, not only can singles feel left out of Orthodoxy, they can be left out of social opportunities all together. When the pandemic began ahead of Pesach, there was much concern expressed for those who would experience chagim on their own–accompanying this concern was a discussion of Zoom seders, or ways to mitigate loneliness on days with no means of online contact with others. As we approach the High Holidays, I am increasingly worried that communities are forgetting those who could be alone for the many ‘off-line’ days in Tishrei.
Furthermore, we need to keep a wide definition for what ‘single’ might mean in today’s circumstances. It might seem self-evident that people who live on their own should be kept in mind as communities consider how the chagim will look in this year of drastic change. It might not be as obvious that those with roommates could be equally isolated: roommates are a weak form of social tie, in that the only obligation they have is to maintain a shared living space. Roommates can go elsewhere, leaving the remaining person effectively single. Holiday meals or other socialization opportunities may not exist for a person who lives with roommates, even if they occupy the same apartment.
While some might find such information helpful, I would suggest that the message that such programs send can be unwittingly harmful: to be single right now is so undesirable that you should spend your remaining energy to learn new modes of dating so that you can no longer be part of this group.
I would like to urge Orthodox leaders to make their singles feel welcomed, valued, and important as the pandemic continues. Crucial to this is ensuring that there are resources and programming for this population. However, please be mindful of what this programming entails. One example: when the pandemic started, numerous sessions were offered for singles about how to date during COVID. While some might find such information helpful, I would suggest that the message that such programs send can be unwittingly harmful: to be single right now is so undesirable that you should spend your remaining energy to learn new modes of dating so that you can no longer be part of this group. Right now is not the time to tell people that their status in life needs to change; it is a time to help people adapt and cope with circumstances as they are. What singles need right now is the same help that their married peers need: how to navigate this changed and challenging world as we all adapt to the difficulties imposed by the pandemic.
Zoë Lang is an active member of the Cambridge, MA Jewish community and the special events coordinator for the Cambridge-Somerville Open Beit Midrash. She holds a PhD from Harvard University and currently serves as the Systems Implementation Consultant at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA.
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