Portland Rabbi Advises Avoiding Loneliness In A Time Of Social Distancing

By John Notarianni (OPB)
March 16, 2020 6 p.m.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has people across the country worrying about the risks they face: of health consequences, of the economic impact. But Rabbi Michael Cahana of Portland’s Congregation Beth Israel adds another risk to that list: loneliness.

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"There’s a danger in isolation,” he said. “Fear drives us inward, makes us look at other people as the enemy. That kind of isolation is very dangerous.”

An empty interior of the Temple at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore.

An empty interior of the Temple at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Ore.

Courtesy of Congregation Beth Israel

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Cahana recently spoke with OPB "Weekend Edition" host John Notarianni about how his congregation is managing the increased necessity of social distance. He says they’ve been holding services, but asking people not to come.

“It’s a very strange thing to ask,” he acknowledged. “But we want to be responsible, take care of our congregation and the community.”

Instead, Cahana said the synagogue is relying on technology to bring people together virtually, via video streaming. Still, he sees the seeds of a growing fear of isolation in people everywhere.

“There’s a reason people are going crazy and buying everything in the store; people are worried they’ll be isolated forever,” he said. “We really do want to remind people this is not forever.”

Cahana said it’s important to be proactive and create community in creative ways, especially with people we suspect are feeling isolated. “A phone call is better than nothing at all. A FaceTime is better still,” he explained.

“Think of the people who need a phone call; reach out to a person who needs to hear from someone who says ‘I’m worried about you.’ That’s significant by itself.”

Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation from OPB’s “Weekend Edition.”

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