Kari Semel was supposed to get married this weekend. Instead, she and her fiancé will have an intimate dinner with family. It may not be the type of evening they originally planned, but the fully vaccinated group is grateful nonetheless.
“To be able to sit together with my parents and my in-laws for dinner on what was supposed to be our wedding night, that wasn’t something that we thought was even possible six months ago,” said Semel, 27.
As of April 19, more than 42% of eligible Pennsylvanians had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, marking a new chapter in the coronavirus narrative. Between the CDC’s guidelines regarding in-person gatherings of those vaccinated and an increasing number of Pennsylvanians receiving jabs, many Jewish Pittsburghers are hopeful about the months ahead.
Semel, a Squirrel Hill resident and Hillel Jewish University Center staffer who oversees Jewish student life at the University of Pittsburgh, is excited to return to a more familiar work routine and to spend more time with family. During the past year, Semel, a former Ohioan, reduced her visits back to Cleveland — and even those daytrips were spent outdoors and distanced.
The inability to visit family on a whim, or to be together following a loss, was devastating, she said: “You don’t realize how challenging it is until you’re experiencing it.”
Weeks ago, Semel, her fiancé and their parents all received a second dose of vaccine. The vaccine has given her a sense of calm, she said, and her family can now casually get together for a meal, indoors and at home.
“We don’t have to worry about quarantining or testing,” she said.
Jordan Loev described a similar shift in attitude. Loev, 21, got his first dose of vaccine last week and said he was looking forward to finally feeling a sense of community again.
“With each progression, I’m getting more excited about getting back to normalcy,” said Loev, a Carnegie Mellon University student who lives off campus and attends classes online.
“Obviously we’re not at the point where we can be right next to each other with masks off, but hopefully we’ll be back in class and see our friends.”
During the past year, the North Oakland resident has focused on staying healthy and reconnecting with friends.
“I think it’s important to maintain those relationships because it’s paramount to our health and well-being,” he said.
Hannah Goldstein, who also lives in North Oakland, likewise prioritized connecting with others this past year. After the fall 2020 semester, Goldstein, 19, a University of Pittsburgh student, moved from a single dorm room to an apartment with friends.
Even though everyone in her pod had been working from home or completing schoolwork online, it’s comforting to feel a bit safer now that vaccinations are on the rise, she said.
With the spring semester coming to an end and so many students soon returning home, there’s been a push on campus to reduce the spread of the virus, said Goldstein, a Pandemic Safety Ambassador for Pitt, who regularly walks through Oakland distributing hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, information about vaccination locations and goodie bags to mask wearers. Goldstein said she and her roommates received shots through UPMC weeks ago.
College students are tired of everything that’s happened during the past year, but also particularly hopeful of what’s to come, according to Zoe Hertz, 22, a Squirrel Hill resident.
Since August 2020, Hertz has worked as an engagement professional at Hillel JUC. She is confident that as the number of people vaccinated increases, so too will opportunities for in-person gatherings.
Although the situation is changing, there’s a lot to be learned from the last several months — many of which were spent in relative isolation — said Hertz, noting that in some ways, the pandemic created new opportunities: Some students were able to connect with Israeli business leaders and build relationships that would have required excessive time and expenses pre-pandemic. For others, bonds were formed during brief moments when in-person activities were permitted. Outdoor walks, and even small exchanges during pre-Shabbat food pickups, became more appreciated.
With more people receiving vaccinations and larger gatherings likely returning, Hertz wonders how much emphasis people will place on building meaningful individual relationships when chances present themselves.
While there is value in hosting 300-person Shabbat dinners, or trips to Israel with 40 people on a bus, when those activities were suspended people had to find creative solutions to connect, she said. People got in front of screens and baked challah together, or listened to lectures and participated in breakout rooms and connected through Zoom. In that way, the past year offered tools for meaningfully participating in the Jewish community. There were some benefits in the last year, she said, and the question in a post-vaccination world is, “Can we pair that with in-person activities?” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.