I had never been to an interfaith tree planting before this winter and as I rode the bus to County Meath for my first I wondered what it might entail. It was Tu B’Shevat, a Jewish holiday often compared to Earth Day that celebrates nature, and as an active participant in Dublin’s small, but energetic Jewish community since arriving on the island, I had been invited to join in the festivities. I was thrilled with what I encountered: rather than marking the holiday alone, we were joined by Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others to plant trees in the Ireland’s fertile soil, burying their roots in the earth together. Enthused about the event, I learned it was the work of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. Soon after, I was excited to join the organization’s Youth Board as the new representative of Dublin’s Jewish faith community.
My second term at Trinity College was a chance to plant my own roots deeper into Dublin, getting involved in the community in new and exciting ways. In addition to classes, travel, and joining the Interfaith Forum Youth Board, I also embraced an exciting opportunity to appear as a recurring commentator on an RTÉ News program. After becoming active with the Ireland chapter of Democrats Abroad, I was connected with an RTÉ journalist named Jackie Fox who was starting a new podcast for the network about American politics called “States of Mind.” The day after Super Tuesday, I took the bus to RTÉ’s studios to record a pilot episode, analyzing the results and talking about my support for Joe Biden. When the show was green-lit, I took a second trip to the studio to record commentary for the first official episode of the show.
However, by Super Tuesday, when I volunteered with Democrats Abroad Ireland to help run the primary voting center in Dublin by checking in voters and tallying ballots, one of my duties already included donning sanitary gloves to periodically wipe down the voting stations, protecting voters from transmitting the coronavirus that had begun to seize headlines and stoke fears. As St. Patrick’s Day approached, the growing pandemic increasingly derailed my plans until I had no choice but to make a difficult decision. With Trinity encouraging students to leave on-campus accommodations, my travel health insurance noting that it would no longer cover COVID-19 cases, and travel suspensions announced by the US and EU, I packed my things and headed back home to the USA, leaving my heart behind in Ireland.
If the time between January to March was about planting deeper roots in Ireland, this crisis marks the beginning of a new chapter in my relationship with Ireland, focusing on maintaining and nurturing those roots while far away. I am lucky that with all classes at Trinity moved online, I am still set to complete my master’s degree and graduate on schedule, even if the time difference between Ireland and the United States means that my class schedule in self-isolation has been anything but normal. Yet, I’ve been even more grateful to have been able to stay engaged with Ireland from afar through the organizations I remain active with there.
Despite being back in the US, I have still been able to join RTÉ’s “States of Mind” podcast, calling on by phone on the podcast’s second episode. In fact, in a surprise twist, I brought my grandfather onto the show as well, recording an episode in which he and I debate Trump’s response to the pandemic. In this way not only have I been able to stay engaged with Ireland, but I have also been able to engage Ireland with the United States, giving our Irish audiences insight into America’s politics.
Still, during these difficult times, I am thankful to have drawn strength and faith from my ongoing connection with Ireland. Just yesterday, I helped run a special Virtual Interfaith Prayer Gathering for the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. As a common darkness descended on each of our faith communities, seven faith groups in Dublin joined together online to create a common light, sharing prayers for resilience, healing, and hope together. With dozens joining together on Zoom, I led attendees in singing Mi Sheberach, the Jewish prayer for healing, while listening in gratitude as other faith communities shared their own prayers. While we might not have all been sharing the same physical space together like we did planting trees in County Meath, the virtual space was abuzz with the same spiritual energy that comes from such solidarity. In my case, I could feel it across the ocean.