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Running Out of Matzo in a Pandemic

April 21, 2020

At The Well, one of our goals is to help young adults find the best friends they didn’t know they needed, to do Jewish, and life, within Detroit (and beyond). One way The Well does that is through "Shared Interest Groups." What does that mean?   

Well, last week, I ran out of Matzo.  

Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal. Normally, I’d hop on my bike and head to Whole Foods and buy more Matzo.  Maybe even score a Chol Hamoed-close-out-discount. Of course, this Passover, nothing is normal. Living in the middle of a global pandemic, in an apartment in downtown Detroit - one of the cities hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis - popping into the grocery store for one item was not a safe or responsible option.

It looked like I was facing a Matzo-free-Pesach-week. No brei. No pizza. No annual moment of remembering that trying to eat a clean bite of lox and shmear off matzo is not as easy I think it will be. (Yes, my quarantine stockpile includes lox. Duh).  

Then, my community - powered by The Well - kicked in. My dear friend Adam, a fellow member of my monthly whiskey-based shared interest group organized by The Well, sent over a text – just to check – if I needed more matzo. He had a few extra boxes and wanted to check with our micro community to see if anyone was in need.  A few hours and a safely distanced handoff in the dog park later, my Passover was saved. 

While these are obviously atypical times, this is a surprisingly typical example of the type of community that The Well has created for me. Through “The Whiskey Well Detroit”, my shared interest group, I have a group of friends with whom I can build a Jewish life. Shared interest groups like mine are a key part of The Well’s special sauce. Shared interest groups can seem simple enough on the surface. A group of people meets up once per month around some unifying idea. Some groups are women’s Rosh Hodesh circles, some are couples’ Shabbat dinner groups, some meet to play Mahjong. It can really be anything, as long as it will encourage a group of Jewish young people to meet once per month, consistently. 

For our group, the connector is whiskey. We meet once per month at one of our houses or apartments in greater downtown Detroit and take turns being the host. Typically, about 10-15 men show up for a few drinks and snacks. We talk about whiskey, we talk about work, and, no joke, we talk about life.

So, you might ask, what’s Jewish about it? Well, I might answer, on the surface very little. We sometimes meet at the old Russian Jewish bathhouse known as The Schvitz, every so often but not every time someone share a bit of Torah, besides that it’s just Jewish guys drinking bourbon (And Scotch. And rye. And sometimes Japanese or Irish Whiskey) and talking.  

But here’s the secret: The real Jewish-community building magic of our shared interest group comes after our monthly whiskey meetings.

The magic happens when one member invites another member to attend a holiday program that The Well is putting on (like the Ushpizin-themed Sukkot escape room), or when a few of us get together for a Shabbat dinner (sometimes subsidized by The Well), or when we gather for a #Friendseder (Think Friendsgiving but for Passover, also powered by The Well). Or… when it’s a global pandemic. And Passover. And you desperately need Matzo.

I’m grateful to The Well for helping put together my shared interest group and helping me find my new best friends to do Jewish and life with in Detroit and look forward to helping put together other shared interest groups, so that others’ can find their new best friends in the future.

George Roberts is the managing principal of Civic Companies, a real estate development firm committed to equitable community development in Detroit. Committed to strengthening Jewish Detroit through myriad avenues, George is a board member of The Well and an executive board member of NEXTGen Detroit at the Jewish Federation and the Founders Junior Council of the DIA.