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Happy Easter, Chag Sameach, or just hello to April!

The subject line of this email is not an April Fools joke: If you celebrate one of the above, were you able to do it with family or friends this year? For Jordan, looking for a seder in Alaska was real life (and it reminded me of the feisty, contemplative John Green book of a similar title).

A Texas native, Jordan has been living in Anchorage, Alaska for the past nine months teaching English to recently-arrived refugees. The Jewish holiday of Passover was coming (need a 101? Here you go), and she didn't have a nearby network of folks to mark the occasion with. So rather than spend the time alone, she decided to ask for help, via social media — which is how I, having never met Jordan in person, encountered her quest

Scary? Maybe. Vulnerable? Definitely. But successful? Indeed! Jordan was able to celebrate thanks to a complicated string of friends-of-friends-of-NEW-friends — all because she asked. "Pros of letting me attend your Seder: I will bring flowers, I'm great at talking to elderly relatives, and I am VERY willing to learn all the verses of Chad Gadya if that would help," she posted in her plea. So I had a few questions of my own for her... 
 
Cheers,
Christine

P.S. My copy of Text Me When You Get Home just came into the library this past week, and I'm excited to dive in before (heads up) some more work travel this month; if things are quiet on the Sown front for the next week or so, you know why! 

Can you share some context about why you’re in Alaska and where you’re from originally?

I’m originally from Dallas, Texas, where there’s a massive Jewish community. I spent my wonderful college years in Austin, which is my favorite place on earth, and then moved to D.C. after graduation. My background and most of my work experience is in journalism, but I really wanted to expand my range of professional experiences, and I wanted to serve a vulnerable community directly for a while (rather than reporting on one with the obligatory professional distance that happens in journalism). So in August, I moved to Anchorage, Alaska, to do a service year with Americorps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps of the Northwest. I work at a refugee resettlement agency here in Anchorage.

Why was it important to you to find somewhere to celebrate Passover this year? Before you started asking around, what options did you have?

Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday, and it’s one that requires a broader community to celebrate – it’s about remembrance via storytelling and discussion, which isn’t something you can do on your own. I really didn’t know any Jewish people in Anchorage, so I wasn’t sure where I could find the kind of celebration I wanted. Before I started asking around, I googled local synagogues — there was one option, but it was at an organization that has a different style of Jewish observance than I personally prefer. I knew I really wanted to be at someone’s home for the holiday, if at all possible.

Why did you decide to post on social media about it? Did you reach out in any other ways beyond social media?

Social media was really my only idea, other than tapping into the national network of enthusiastic Jewish mothers (which also works primarily via social media, according to my own mom).

A pretty hefty number of my Facebook friends are Jewish, just because that’s how I grew up. I thought if people could share my search with their own Jewish networks, someone might know someone who knew another Alaskan Jew. (There aren’t very many of us.) 

How did it go? Did the outreach meet your expectations? How did the Passover celebration itself go, and how did you connect with those people?

The search went amazingly well. I was blown away by how generous and helpful people were. The number and variety of people who shared my post was wild – a woman I met briefly during a hike two years ago shared it, and so did a former editor, and so did people I don’t even know. I was getting emails from total strangers, saying they’d heard about my search from other total strangers, within two days of my original Facebook status.

The Passover celebration I ended up going to was absolutely beautiful. This is how I found them: Apparently, the husband of a friend of my mother's has a co-worker who has a friend who lives in Anchorage. MEANWHILE, the college roommate of an old camp friend knew another Alaskan whose mother's friend was also trying to get me an invitation to what turned out to be...the same Passover seder. I literally had to make a diagram to figure out how I’d ended up at this woman’s house. She was incredibly generous, and the food was outstanding.

What did this experience teach you about friendship? Would you do it again? (It’s okay if you say no!)

I think this experience reminded me that it’s always okay to ask for help. People get really excited about helping you achieve your goals, especially when they are as specific as “I need to find one dinner, on one particular evening, by the end of this week.” Like I said, I was blown away by how enthusiastically a whole network of friends and strangers reacted to that challenge. I would absolutely do it again.

Anything else?

My relationship with social media is extremely complicated (isn’t everyone’s?) but the one thing it does undeniably well is hyper-charge personal networks. The speed at which my tiny request reached literally thousands of people was jaw-dropping. Again, I think part of what made it work so well was the specificity of my request – it was clear what I needed, and it was obvious why I needed friends to help boost my search. Beyond that, I’m just grateful to the Rose-Levy family of Anchorage, Alaska, for having me. And now I know a whole section of the Alaskan Jewish community that I had not been aware of before this week began.

Go sow: Challenge for the week. 

"I go to seek a Great Perhaps." — from John Green's Looking for Alaska (and the last words of Francois Rabelais)

Enjoy spring, y'all — do what makes you embrace the April air best!
And invite someone to come along for the ride with you.
Write back and let me know how it goes! And add these to your friendship toolkit:
  • "My best friendships happen online. That doesn't make them less valid": If the Internet is the cause of loneliness, can it also be the cure? A look at how technology is helping friendships stay strong but also creating new ones via apps that allow for shared vulnerability along the way.
  • The joys of the new grown-up friend: "Amy is a novelty, to begin with; a chance to reinvent myself or, even better, be my real self with because now I’m old enough and sure enough of who that is. If all our friends reflect different facets of the people we are, Amy is there to mirror back to me the fullest and most complete version of myself I’ve ever been. To befriend someone as an adult is to take them, as their messy, fallible, honest selves and that is a fine basis for friendship." (A different take from the same author of the link above.)
  • Friendship in childhood can help pave the way for health in adulthood, a new study finds: "Boys who spent more time with their friends in childhood and adolescence, as reported by their parents, had healthier blood pressure and body mass index at age 32."
  • The value of Black women friendships: "Black women are powerful, victorious, magnetic, beautiful, trendsetters mixed with cocoa-shea butter and magic. Once self-awareness is arisen, your tribe comes after. Hopefully it’s a group of fun-loving Queens who love and respect each other."
  • How to make friends as an adult, your reminder in 5 steps including the eternal "Don't overthink it": "When a person acts on their behaviors first (texting and setting up a friend meet up) instead of creating a rejection scenario in their head, they are able to overcome the concerns or fears that may come along with rejection.”

Grow the Sow.

Zoom into the full map here.

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