This story is part of “One Year In,” a series documenting the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of Jews around the world.
(JTA) — When her senior year of college was upended by the pandemic, Gen Slosberg set to work on a very personal project: bringing together other young Asian-American Jews in conversation about their identities, heritages and shared experiences.
Hate against Asians in America was already a concern, given the way that some in politics and the media characterized COVID-19 as an invention of China. But she could not have known how needed Lunar: The Jewish-Asian Film Project would be for her.
First, she struggled with the loss of in-person community that had long sustained her. A senior at the University of California, Berkeley, when in person classes were canceled, Slosberg was one of countless college students who went home when the pandemic began and never returned. She graduated in a virtual ceremony after not stepping foot on campus for months.
“Having to finish college in a pandemic was a huge disappointment — it made me realize how all the best things that made Berkeley a special place for me were in person,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “All-nighters at the library, getting late night boba [tea] with my friends, walking by the historic buildings where probably Nobel Prize winners once sat … It was all taken away from me without a single moment’s notice.”
Many across the Jewish world and beyond were pleasantly surprised by how meaningful Zoom could be as an imperfect substitute for real-world interaction. Slosberg was not among them.
“The buzzing energy and feedback of in-person social interactions, the rituals in places I felt at home … showing up to Hillel for BBQ; showing up to that one downtown Oakland building to see my Bay Area JoC [Jews of color] fam; showing up at the campus multicultural center and studying with my half-eaten bagel. The warmth of all those communities I felt a part of has mostly dissipated,” she said.
Slosberg’s graduation ceremony in December involved a pre-recorded YouTube video addressed to students. She barely tuned in.
“I couldn’t even muster up the energy to make my own commencement slide. What the hell was the point? What was supposed to be monumental for me was now me sitting in bed, half-awake, tuning in and out of the chancellor’s speech,” she said.
But it wasn’t only the disruption of her senior year that was a struggle for Slosberg. She also followed along as attacks on Asian Americans rose during the pandemic, culminating in a mass shooting in Atlanta at three spas that killed eight, including six Asian and Asian American women.
“With the surge in anti-Semitic attacks and anti-Asian violence, it feels like every other day one of my communities, or all of them, is being attacked,” she said. “It’s like I never get to catch a break — today I explain anti-Semitism to my friends, tomorrow it’s anti-Asian racism. This has been exhausting.”
Slosberg said the pandemic aggravated mental health issues that she had experienced throughout college. Her Lunar network has been a help, she said. But she said she still hasn’t begun to move past the grief that has buffeted her this year.
“Not only did I lose the mundane things that made in person life great, I lost friends and community members. People of my background were lost to hate,” Slosberg said. “We talk about adapting, shifting, changing… I never quite got to process my loss.”