My father died peacefully on a wintry morning this February. The day before, there was a snowstorm, and he spent hours watching the flakes fall outside his kitchen window. That was all he wanted to do. He was content. Quiet. Smiling.
We, his family, didn’t know this would be his last snow. His vitals seemed as strong as ever, and he had not contracted COVID-19. Born in 1921 and about to pass the 100-year mark, he seemed like he could power on forever. In retrospect, I am pretty sure he knew.
Losing our life force of a dad, who continued to learn and evolve as a person as he aged—and having already lost our equally amazing mother a decade ago—has been hard for our family. But my father is not the only one to die in this particular harsh cold winter when COVID-19 raged uncontrollably. Among the mighty souls recently felled by COVID-19 were my neighbor and former Moment editor and publisher Hershel Shanks and psychiatrist Sam Black, a devoted Moment reader who understood human nature in ways I admired. People of all ages have died, but of the more than half a million we have lost to the virus, many have been members of the Greatest Generation, forged by the Great Depression and World War II, or members of the so-called Silent Generation, people born between 1928 and 1945. Much accumulated wisdom has passed with them.
With both parents gone, I feel alone. Of course, I’m not. I have a supportive nuclear family, dear siblings, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, an uncle, cousins and extended family. I have friends and colleagues all over the world and from many periods of my life—including some from the Greatest and Silent Generations more than I could ever have imagined when I was growing up. I have my thoughtful and creative Moment colleagues and readers, who are truly like a family. I have a social media community, which reached out when my dad died. I have neighbors who have brought over full-course meals and homemade chicken soup. I don’t belong to any particular synagogue at this point in my life, but I have a strong meta-Jewish community. I have been embraced by multiple circles of communities, all of which blended seamlessly together during the funeral and a week of virtual shivas. I feel great gratitude for this blessing.
My multiple communities blended seamlessly during the funeral and week of virtual shivas.
Since long before my dad’s death, we here at Moment have been discussing community. Like so many other Americans during the past few years, we’ve spent hours lamenting its failures—pining for the past, stumped by the present and worrying about the future. And so, in this issue, in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network, we explore what community means today. It is a question at the core of many conversations and modern problems. As we usually do when we take on a “Big Question” in the magazine, we talk to a range of thinkers who have written or spoken about the topic and who see it from different perspectives. After all, this is not a question with a yes or no answer, or one Jewish answer; it transcends religion and culture.
As often happens when we put together an issue, the theme of our “Big Question” bubbles up in other stories as well. We learn more about our Jewish Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, and explore the role he could play in the Jewish community and why it means so much to have a Jew in that position. Our rabbis ponder what virtual community has meant in practice. In “Jewish Word,” we discuss the complexity of the term “cancel culture” and discover it is just the most recent manifestation of a long balancing act that has everything to do with community. Community can also function on the dark side. In this issue’s “Opinion Interview,” we talk to an expert who helps extract people from extremist groups, be they QAnon or jihadi. Many find their way to radicalism through a search for community. Moment’s Europe editor Liam Hoare takes us into the international white supremacist network, tracking the activities of former Klan grand wizard David Duke during the two decades when he lived and traveled in Europe, connecting anti-Semites on both sides of the Atlantic.
In truth, you can’t write about anything in the Jewish world without bumping into community in one way or another. We introduce you to an 18th-century Italian girl who crafted a striking Torah ark curtain from her ghetto home. We serve up a double dose of Cynthia Ozick (a review of her new book by Dara Horn and an exclusive interview by Sarah Breger), and come to better understand the acclaimed writer’s unique way of parsing the world. In “Talk of the Table,” I tell the tale of how horseradish came to replace lettuce as the bitter herb on the Passover seder plate in Ashkenazi homes.
Meanwhile, this winter, which we all knew would be bitter, is at its end. Those we have lost will not be forgotten, but spring is here and warm weather will follow. Vaccinations are in process. These are signs of hope, but don’t rush. Stay masked, stay socially distant, stay safe. We have had more than enough deaths in the Jewish community, the American community and the global community. Only as a global community can we end this pandemic.