By Josh Walfish

It all began with a simple feast for one.

I had been in North Carolina all of three weeks when the Jewish high holidays rolled around. Stuck without any vacation days to spend the holidays with my family, I decided to make the most of it and made myself some chicken and couscous and bought a nice red wine.

That elegant dinner for one was the first time I really understood the fact that I was in the real world now. No organic Jewish community to join, no parents to cook all this delicious food. Just me, my subpar cooking skills and a dimly lit apartment in eastern North Carolina.

The festivities continued a few months later when I rushed home from work every day during my dinner break to light my menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. The lights glistened as I placed the tray with the menorah in the sink to prevent a fire while I drove to the high school basketball game I was covering that night.

My first job out of college was in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a town of about 57,000 people according to the latest numbers from the Census Bureau. Although no data is officially available, there are probably fewer than 10 Jews living in Nash and Edgecombe counties — and I am one of them.


“I realized just how lonely I really was in the world. Sure, I had a great family and a fantastic group of friends in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., but if I needed someone to come to my aid at 4 a.m., who could I call?”


I didn’t think it would be a big deal for me. I’m not one to force my religious views on anyone, and I am very tolerant of the beliefs of others. I didn’t see a reason for any issues to arise, and for the most part, they didn’t.

That changed on January 6, 2015.

I was covering the local Christian private school’s basketball team, and they said a prayer before the game. I stood silently with my head looking straight ahead, thinking about all the wishes they were asking from God. When the prayer was completed, an older woman nearby said I was being very rude by not bowing my head during prayer and asked me why I didn’t pray with them.

I tried to explain that it wasn’t my custom, but I might as well have told her that Jesus was a myth and she was crazy. She berated me for a few minutes before realizing I didn’t care. She turned her attention back to the game.

After the game, I went back to the office and recounted the story. My colleagues were very sympathetic to me and told me not to worry, but in my mind, the seeds had been planted that I just did not belong in this town.

Ironically enough, my birthday was the next day, and as I tend to do, I took a state of my life after 23 years. With that incident fresh in my mind, I realized just how lonely I really was in the world. Sure, I had a great family and a fantastic group of friends in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., but if I needed someone to come to my aid at 4 a.m., who could I call?

That realization sent me into a major funk, one of a few prolonged low moments I have had in the 18 months since my graduation. The only way out of that spiral was to work. So I dove into my job, but didn’t do very well taking care of me and my needs in the process.


“Community — especially religious community — is about nothing more than loving one another and helping each other in times of need.”


Even though on the outside I seemed fine, and most people could not witness the turmoil within, I was slowly being engulfed by these feelings of isolation.

The funny part of this story is that it took going to church for me to come to grips with being Jewish in an almost exclusively Christian town.

My editor lost his newborn child to a heart defect, and I attended the funeral with many of my colleagues from work in early May. I sat in the service as an act of moral support, and when there were the prayers to Jesus, I took the opportunity to say the Jewish equivalent to each prayer.

When the final prayer was going to be said, the pastor asked everyone to hold hands and bow their heads. The girl to my right attempted to grab my hand, but I kindly declined the request, and she looked bewildered.

As the family’s processional back up the aisle commenced, my editor came over and whispered that he was grateful I had shown up. He later texted me that he wasn’t sure if I would come, but he was glad to see me there in support.

All religions at the core are about respecting your fellow human. We pray to different deities, but we pray for the same things, and we believe in the same fundamental principle.

Community — especially religious community — is about nothing more than loving one another and helping each other in times of need.

No matter what I say or do, just about everyone I meet in Rocky Mount will assume I’m Christian. I will still get asked which church I attend — my answer of Beth Shalom really throws them off — and I will still get the same concerned faces when I tell them that I offered to work Christmas Day.

So when a curious high school athlete recently asked me after an interview whether I would be going home from Christmas, I calmly told her, “My family puts more of an emphasis on Thanksgiving.”

I went home later that night, put on my charcoal gray yarmulke and lit the Hanukkah menorah for the second consecutive year in an apartment that was now shining with the flickering flames of Jewish pride.

Josh Walfish is a sports reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.



By Catie L’Heureux

The photograph captures the view from my family’s lake house. Here, my dad sears whitefish on the grill while damp towels rim the peeling wooden deck and Michigan cherries cluster in tin bowls. On the dock we sip wine from stemless glasses and savor the fading sky, anchored in white Adirondack chairs. Here, I am happiest.

Posted to Facebook just before my college graduation, the photo belies my jobless angst: A newspaper internship had been revoked due to budgeting issues, then unexpectedly reinstated. I would soon be squatting in a filthy basement in a Chicago suburb all summer, bemoaning my lack of a real job. After the sunset and a few other shots, that was it: A year has passed since I’ve shared a photo to Facebook. I don’t Instagram. I seldom tweet. I don’t use dating apps. 

This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me. Living in a house with four girls who had all found full-time work, I grilled chicken and ate bagged salad every night, refusing to meet my eyes in the mirror before bed because I loathed the uncertainty, and I didn’t like myself. I cried a lot. I spent most evenings after the internship sprawled on my mattress scrolling through Facebook, tapping likes on happy photos of the friends I’d stopped meeting. Posting my own status or photo was unimaginable, because those choices were inevitably rooted in insecurities and looming failure (Does that profile picture show my best angle? Why haven’t more than 15 people liked this photo in the past hour? I tagged X in this photo yesterday; why hasn’t he liked it yet?).


This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me.


These anxieties taxed a mental energy I didn’t possess. So I stopped posting to Facebook, intermittently tweeted (to show prospective media employers an unfortunately tepid social media “savvy”), and wrote 40 cover letters in earnest until a magazine editor asked me to fly to New York for an interview. I got the job, and soon arrived with two suitcases at an all-women boardinghouse in Manhattan to start my new life (an experience I ended up writing about for the magazine).

My withdrawal from social media is inanely average. I didn’t cut myself or contemplate suicide, though I do identify with reports on the mental-health epidemic afflicting college students nationwide. I was fortunate to recover stability so quickly, stumbling into a salaried job that allows me to support myself without my parents’ help. It’s also important to acknowledge that my digital hiatus makes me less of a contributing citizen, for now. I read The New Yorker; I work at a general-interest culture magazine; I listen to NPR; but my absence from social media is ostensibly apathetic.

Here, then, are the things people don’t know. There is the wilting white rose on my desk, purchased after a solo dinner at an upscale restaurant last Saturday night. There is the faux-leather address book on my dresser, in which I thrillingly (nerdily) alphabetize new words with definitions from my phone’s Merriam-Webster app. There are the two museum tickets at my elbow, one of which will next weekend be shared with a guy I met at a bar who forebodingly wears Prada shoes. There is my favorite summer dress hanging in the closet, worn last summer while I indulged in the warm afternoon alone, reading Joan Didion’s essay collection on a bench in Central Park. There are the dear friends who still tag me in Facebook photos, knowing that I may not see or like their posts for weeks. Above all, there is a private solitude I share with no one but myself.

After graduating and moving to New York, I often vacillate between loneliness and aloneness. Friends are scattered throughout the city; I sporadically meet them for drinks and come home to a compact room with pale walls and a silence that can be deafening, or serene. Solitude defined is: a state or situation in which you are alone because you want to be. This idea — an actual desire to be alone — never occurred to me during college. It is now imperative, though still unsettling. Absence from social media engendered this freedom for me, for now. I think of our preciously unfettered 20’s and Susan Glaspell’s "The People" swirls to mind: “This is our little while. This is our chance.”

Catie L’Heureux is an assistant editor at New York magazine’s The Cut.



By Marina Csomor

I am faced with a great internal struggle whenever I find a house show or pop-up restaurant or art opening to attend. The initial thrill of possibility of who I might meet or what I could discover at such an event is soon overtaken by a creeping anxiety. But who can I get to go with me?

Although I’ve been living in Detroit for six months, my circle of friends is sadly still limited. I have a few friends living in the suburbs, a few others busy with full-time jobs and boyfriends, a few friends of friends and college acquaintances I know are nearby — but he is rarely willing to make the long, congested drive to the city; she is probably doing something with her S.O.; and I just asked her to hang out a few days ago.

I’m not good at asking for company, and as an introverted only child, I am used to embracing independence and riding solo. But it’s amazing how solitude loses its sheen when it’s a ceaseless reality rather than a bold choice. Sometimes I just don’t want to face a crowd of strangers alone.

Walking into Detroit’s contemporary art museum one Saturday afternoon in April, however, I am excited to be unaccompanied. I’m heading to a panel called “The Art of Food Sovereignty,” which has combined just about all of my callings — art, community, whole foods and social justice — in one talk. I’m ready to absorb the wisdom of like-minded individuals, and alone, I know I will be more approachable. This is my chance to infiltrate a community I have been longing to find.

The talk is great, and I feel fine by myself in the audience. I enjoy looking at the faces around me, noting the abundance of oversized glasses, thrift store threads and carefree bed head.

During the discussion, one of the panelists, a combination artist/farmer, passes around a bowl of greens she picked fresh that morning. I laugh to myself as the bowl gets to me. With no plates and no condiments, I know many people would find this communal snack absurd — even pretentious — but to me, it’s perfect.


Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.


These are my people — those I imagine to be that rare breed of authentic hipster, who like art and recycling and DIY because of real interest in radical change, not because it feels profound to be “different.” I see the potential in this crowd to be the supportive and stimulating collective I haven’t yet found in Detroit.

After the talk, there is a reception in the next room where an accompanying exhibit is on display. Fresh salad and medicinal tea are served. The panelists are mingling.

I walk to the gallery, on a mission. One of the panelists — the one who brought the greens — is a woman I have admired for many months after stumbling on a magazine feature about her life as an artist and farmer in Detroit. She is someone I dream of working with — of being, really. I know I must talk to her.

I grab salad and walk around the room, one eye on the display of canned fruits and veggies artfully arranged by color, and the other on her. She is happily hugging the friends who came to hear her talk. Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.

The moment I see her alone, I pounce.“Hello, my name is Marina,” I say clumsily, “and I am really interested in your work with art and food and community. I was wondering, does your farm ever take volunteers?”

She smiles, unaware how much I need her to say “yes,” and instead tells me that they usually just work with people in their neighborhood. I think she senses my desperation and adds that sometimes they have volunteer days. “Why don’t you take my number,” she offers. Actually, her email address is on this information card, so “why don’t you just take this and send me a message.” One last smile, and with that, she’s moved on to her next admirer.

I take a final turn about the room, pretending that everything is fine, hoping maybe someone else will strike up even the smallest conversation with me. But they don’t, and I bolt.


Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart.


Walking back to my car, I feel awkward and hopeless. What am I doing? Why am I so lost? As I put the key in the ignition, I begin bawling.

I can’t seem to stop the tears, so I let them keep pouring. With the darkness of this last year, I have cried so many times in public that I don’t even care that the drivers of passing cars can probably see my red, raw face.

I cry in embarrassment at the regression of my social skills. I cry for my desperation to find someone, anyone, who will be my bridge to community in Detroit. I cry because her niceness is just not quite nice enough.

I consider calling my mom, but I’ve shared so many desperate moments with her over the last few months that I figure I might as well spare her from this breakdown.

When I get back to my apartment, I lie down on my bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I ignore my to-do list and the sun shining outside, and open my laptop to watch a movie.

Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart, even if it means being unproductive or antisocial. So, I let myself spend the rest of the day in bed.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll send her that email. But not today.

Marina Csomor is a designer and writer living in Detroit.