We are stronger than we think

April 2021
Alexis Wenzowski

Just over a year ago, Jewish community professionals gathered at JHamilton to discuss the new reality a global pandemic had forced upon us. Our discussions focused on how we could come together to support the most vulnerable members among us during a crisis we probably thought would last a few months and be gone.  Looking back, I have to smile at our naivety. We had no idea that we were about to leap into a great unknown.

I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a collective trauma event. While many of us have experienced some type of trauma at least once in our lives, what we are experiencing with this pandemic is unparalleled in scope.  It will help us to be mindful of that in our interactions with others and with ourselves. Be gentle. Be kind. We don’t know the emotional weight others are carrying.

The pandemic uprooted our lives in so many ways and is causing us to question our own identity. How do we continue to exist as ourselves within a radically different world? How do we serve others? How do we show others we care?

I remember being very overwhelmed in the first few weeks of lockdown. Hamilton Jewish Family Services was trying to ensure the delivery of Passover essentials to the vulnerable. Government information and protective personal equipment were scarce. Many of our clients felt isolated and afraid. On a personal level, I was worried about my aging parents and how COVID-19 might effect my father’s long-term care home. “When you’re going through hell, keep going,” Churchill once said.  Each of us has experienced a personal hell over the last year, and yet we keep going. 

Looking back on a chapter in my own life experience has helped me navigate this pandemic. From the ages of 27 to 32, I lived in an isolated Cree community in Northern Saskatchewan. During that period, I had to learn to adapt without the conveniences I’d known before.  I had to adjust to traveling five hours to get to my dentist, to manage without a cell phone, and to endure having friends and family far away. I took up snowmobiling and kayaking. I organized different community programs. My students were struggling both academically and personally, and this caused me to question my own thoughts about Canada as a progressive society. I had to learn how to build relationships in a community facing its own collective and individual traumas arising from colonization. Those five years — tough and yet rewarding— made me who I am today.

Over the last year, I’ve thought a lot about my time in the North, and I’ve come up with the following five gifts  from that period that guide me in the present circumstances:  Perspective is everything; Try new things; take time for you; communal life matters; people remember how you made them feel. 

A year into the pandemic, our world looks different, yet, I believe that we are stronger and more resilient than we think. We are more connected than we could ever imagine, and our actions really can create a better tomorrow. I hope we are able to draw upon the gifts that carried us forward in the past year. Our historical experiences will shape future generations.