Lessons for Quarantine I Learned As a Jew in South Dakota

by Daniel Rosenfield / May 20, 2020

10 miles. No one. 50 miles. No one. 500 miles. One. “Willing to convert.” Rolls over in bed. Welcome to JSwipe in western South Dakota.

south dakota

For almost two years, I lived in Rapid City, South Dakota. I joined the incredible community of the Synagogue of the Hills and met regularly with Rabbi Mendel and Mussie Alperowitz of the state’s Chabad.

As we approach week number…who cares…of quarantine, I look back to what I learned as a Jew in South Dakota (the better Dakota) – the last state to have a full-time rabbi – and how it’s relevant to city folk of DC right now.

1) Everyone has a gift

Every member of the 30-family Synagogue of the Hills in Rapid City brought a gift to our community. Mary tended to the garden, Jo led chanting of Shabbat prayers, Dave could make a “dad joke” out of anything mentioned at a synagogue board meeting, and Steve brought scrumptious naan from his local Nepalese restaurant to the Oneg.

In a town where a synagogue is the synagogue, we were grateful for everyone’s unique contribution to the community.

Every person in our young, D.C. Jewish community has a gift desperately needed right now. Whether it’s sewing masks, calling seniors (class of 2020 or 65+),or staying home to volunteer virtually, each one of us is in a position to give. 

2) Wipe off your boots

In South Dakota, a May snowstorm means year-long use of a Scrusher® and wiping off your boots before entering any space, especially our synagogue. 

Cleanliness is top of mind for everyone these days and COVID-19 is putting everyone in a funk. For some, job loss, food insecurity, or a loved ones’ sickness makes this time especially challenging.

Right now, we are all stuck in this metaphorical snowstorm. Each day brings a deluge of bad news. Negativity is all around us wherever you look.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to track that into your home. Once you cross the threshold, let’s make that snow melt away. You have the power to wipe that negativity away and replace it with positivity.

3) Small talk makes a BIG difference

As a South Dakotan, I learned the beauty of Midwest small talk and the importance of saying hello to EVERYONE.

It’s easy to shut out personal touch points, relying on social media scrolling and quarter-started MasterClasses to stay sane.

Truth is, we’re social. We need to connect. And yes, “how are you getting through this quarantine?” may be getting as old as “what are you doing after college?” was. But right now, checking up on one another is key.

It’s incumbent upon us to seek out and make social connections in a time of isolation and personal avoidance.

Whether it’s just catching up or having a deep conversation about how you’re planning to solve the challenges of the world, what we really need is just a few more Midwestern “chit-chats.”

4) Welcome the folks just passing through

When you’re living in the heart of the Midwest, you get used to your synagogue welcoming RV-dwelling visitors stopping by for Shabbat dinner. We never asked their religious background, when they were Bar Mitzvahed, or how many times they had been to Israel. However, if they were a single girl, someone would ask if they were looking for a NJB…thanks Ms. Georgette.

Each of us is taking this pandemic day by day, packed in our own RV. We may think we’re solo, but we’re far from alone.

As young Jews, we understand the incredible power that being a part of a strong Jewish community has on our happiness. It’s as easy as forwarding a Shabbat dinner Zoom to an acquaintance or logging in for your rabbi’s weekly class…because, right now, our community needs community.


DanAbout the Author: Originally from Texas, Dan Rosenfield eagerly awaits the day that flying out of DCA will be as inexpensive as departing from BWI. When he’s not working in political consulting, he regales and stumps hundreds as a trivia host while molding young Jewish minds as a fifth-grade Hebrew school teacher. Dan enjoys running through Rock Creek Park and gets way too excited when Target notifies him that his online order is ready for pickup.



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