Temple Israel rabbi: ‘We have a front row seat to transformative change around racial justice and social justice’

Marcia Zimmerman
Marcia Zimmerman

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Marcia Zimmerman, rabbi, Temple Israel 

For the High Holy Days, we did everything online and we tried our best to be as engaging as possible. We had live sermons and services, but we also had additional programming for people, knowing that things were not the norm. We did things that were creative and brought the highlights for everybody. We didn’t know how we’d be able to have performances from our youth choir. We put together these amazing compilation videos (because you can’t sing well over Zoom) that had people really engaged and had our youth singing together.

People are always stirred up around holidays, but the anticipatory anxiety around the High Holy Days was greater than usual. But the relief afterward was bigger. There were more people reaching out and saying how much they enjoyed the service. I think there was this idea of that kind of rise and fall that is a part of the holiday. It kind of ebbs and flows.

As summer moved into fall I felt a lot of anxiety. Transitions are not easy and they’re never easy, but right now it’s even more difficult.

There are a couple of things I’m emphasizing in these times. One is that we have a front row seat to transformative change around racial justice and social justice. We decided to stay in the city as a congregation in order to be active in these moments and not to get overwhelmed and not feel cynical about our ability to make change. That’s one of the things I really want to encourage my congregants to think about. It’s not always an easy thing but it’s necessary for us to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, especially as a religious institution. 

The other piece that’s really important is that we have Jewish ritual and Jewish tradition. We want to make sure that we take care of ourselves in this, too, because it’s stressful. We need to take care of our physical and mental health. This is not a luxury but a necessity. We do that by feeding our souls, not only taking care of our body and mental health, but religion is that place and ritual is that place that helps us feel that serenity and a balance.  

We found a way to set up the backyard at home so people can spread out. We have had some family gatherings that have been helpful as far as connecting. For me cooking for my family, and especially my kids, has always been important. I’ve gotten to cook, which was not happening at the beginning, with us being inside and knowing less about how the virus is transmitted. I have had some dinners outside. Thinking about the fall and winter, I’m a little worried about what that will bring. I think it’s going to be a little more hunkering down. 


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