For many people, life slowed down once COVID-19 hit. Hers sped up.


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) — Two big things happened for Sofi Hersher in the second half of 2019. First, she left her communications role at the Union of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center to take a management position at a small digital communications agency in Washington, D.C. Then, in December, she hit it off with someone she met at a Jewish communal fundraiser and they began dating.

She hoped that both of those new relationships would flourish in 2020, but she didn’t know how much they would be tested.

“It was just the three of us in this tiny office,” she recalls about her first months at ignite:action, a marketing consultancy that works with many Jewish nonprofits. But after the pandemic descended, thrusting the nonprofit sector into chaos amid fears of an economic collapse, many organizations needed help. Hershey quickly scaled up, quadrupling her staff in a matter of weeks.

Figuring out the technical pieces of that growth was one thing. Managing the psychological challenge was another. Not only were Hersher’s team members coaching nonprofits through a crisis, they were experiencing one themselves. A emotional peak came during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, near where some of her staff members live.

“I had to call them and say, ‘Get offline. Just, you know, just stay sane. Just protect yourself,’” she said. “I had to talk them through that. No one has the emotional resilience that they used to have because everybody’s tired.”

Hersher found support from her boyfriend, who was always present because the couple had moved in together in May.

“We had to decide, are we going to organize our lives around the ability to spend time together during this time of incredible restriction … or are we going to say, ‘Great to meet you, but the timing is terrible and I’ll catch you in 2021’?”

They decided to condense a timeline that might have taken a few years into just a couple of months, much to the delight of Hersher’s parents, who she said had been “anxiously awaiting for me to meet a nice Jewish boy and settle down.”

Hersher had never lived with a romantic partner before. Now she was spending all day, every day, in the presence of one, with no opportunities for respite.

“It’s hard to tell your partner, ‘Hey, can you leave the room? I need you to leave the room.’ That’s just an awkward and weird thing to say to someone, but we’ve learned how to say it,” she says. She added, “If we can spend every minute of every day together for an entire year, then we’re probably good.”

In a year when so many have lost so much — more than 1,000 of Hersher’s fellow D.C. residents have died of COVID-19 — Hersher recognizes that she has had an enviable experience.

“It’s a challenging thing to be experiencing some amount of bounty amongst so much sadness,” she said. At least about her work, she added, “I don’t believe in regrets but I don’t know that I would do it again.”

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