They were shaking hands and hugging as Metro Minyan met for the first time in 15 months to celebrate Shabbat outdoors. Jacob Bressman said those physical greetings felt normal and weird at the same time.
“It’s a natural instinct to do it,” Bressman said. “And then while you’re doing it, it feels strange.”
Bressman and his wife, Yi Hu, were among about 100 people in their 20s and 30s at Metro Minyan, Washington Hebrew Congregation’s Shabbat celebration for young adults.
The monthly service was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic. On Friday, Associate Rabbi Aaron Miller announced that he had been waiting more than a year for that moment.
“NO MORE ZOOM. No more chat boxes. No more internet connectivity issues. Just Shabbat. With each other. Live & Unplugged, like it should be,” read the event’s online description.
That was a relief for Milton Koch.
“I was tired of Zoom,” Koch said. “It’s not nearly the same. I’m sorry, like, you don’t build community. Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine for people like us who know each other and have talked before, but for building community, it doesn’t work at all.”
The first to arrive headed to an area with tables, chairs and a mini-bar. Eventually, Miller gathered everyone around the tables for a Torah study. While they snacked on egg rolls, mini hot dogs and samosas, Miller told the story of the biblical Balaam, who the king of Moab hired to curse the Israelites. Miller described Balaam as an evil wizard and compared him to Voldemort, archenemy of Harry Potter.
Participants debated whether Balaam was actually evil. Then they headed to the parking lot where chairs were set up in rows. Miller led the Shabbat service, followed by a dinner of hamburgers and hot dogs.
Sara Barrack of Washington said she missed going to in-person services and jumped at the chance to socialize at the Metro Minyan.
“I’ve come to Metro Minyan a few times and it seemed like the weather was going to be good,” Barrack said. “I’m vaccinated, I like to go to services once a month or so, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get back to communal events.”
Caroline Bisk of Washington attended Metro Minyan to show her support for the synagogue and the Jewish community.
“It’s great that they’ve restarted this as soon as they could,” Bisk said. “We’re all still together. We’re acknowledging the reality of the COVID situation and we’re still moving forward with faith and with the community and all being together and continuing the traditions, even though it doesn’t look the same way it looked before.”
In her purse, Bisk carried a Torah.
“You never know when a Torah is going to be useful,” she said.
Bisk was able to reconnect with her friend Koch. They hadn’t been face to face in more than a year. Neither was concerned about COVID at the open-air gathering. They were confident that everyone in attendance was vaccinated.
“I think so long as you’re outside at this point, we’re completely comfortable,” Koch said. “I think that tricky point is when you go inside, and I applaud the temple for having the first [Metro Minyan] outside, especially when we’ve got great weather like this.”
Michelle Breaux of Rockville liked having the minyan outdoors.
“It feels different being outside, but it’s still fun,” Breaux said. “It’s an element that [traditions] keep going on, and you can find meaning in different things.”