UC Berkeley law student Sara Caplan's pandemic hobby is performing in live online Shakespeare readings.
UC Berkeley law student Sara Caplan's pandemic hobby is performing in live online Shakespeare readings.

From music to cooking, pandemic hobbies uncork creativity

Micah Bloom’s summer plans weren’t supposed to go off the rails. The 20-year-old was all set for a cool internship at a Tel Aviv real estate office before returning to Ohio State University for his junior year. Instead, for most of 2020, he ended up at home in Oakland with his parents and brother, Jonah, sheltering in place as the coronavirus spread.

The Bloom brothers weren’t about to let a pandemic get them down. Night after night, as their folks slept, the brothers would stay up through the wee hours, binge-watching Netflix, trying out stand-up comedy routines and, most adventurously, recording an album of Micah’s original songs. That project brought the siblings closer, and kept the Covid blues at bay.

“Even though I was living at home, I still felt a level of independence and control over my own life, partly because we had free range of the house,” Micah says. Adds his 18-year-old brother Jonah of the musical endeavor, “It was definitely a coping mechanism. We bonded over a common goal.”

“It was incredibly gratifying,” observes their father, Rabbi Mark Bloom of Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham. “At first, my kids were sitting here doing nothing, withering away during this pandemic. But they had their own world at night. And to see them bonding over music was great. It definitely put something constructive on what was an awful time for them.”

Brothers Micah and Jonah Bloom recorded music together at night.
Brothers Micah and Jonah Bloom recorded music together at night.

The brothers found a way to navigate the isolation in the time of Covid-19. As part of the self-care needed to survive the crisis, they, like many others in the Bay Area Jewish community, discovered new hobbies or rekindled old interests to help the days go by more enjoyably.

Like 18-year-old Rebecca Meshel, a high school senior at Terra Linda in San Rafael. Last spring, as with high schools around the world, Terra Linda switched to online classes. Meshel’s SAT exam was canceled, and then her dream of serving as a counselor at the JCC Maccabi summer camp fell through. Fortunately, Meshel’s mother had a hunch. Knowing that Rebecca had a flair for drawing and had always professed a love of arts, she decided to buy her daughter a supply of acrylic paints and some canvas in case the spirit moved her.

Mom was right. Rebecca found herself staying up all night, painting until sunrise. “It was an eye opener to see I had this passion for art,” Meshel says. “When my parents woke up, I would show them the paintings.”

Most of her pieces are abstracts of bright colors and cursive lines. She also started painting replicas of favorite album covers. “It taught me to look at the bright side of things,” says the teen. “I feel I can now go into life and if something bad happens I can remember to look at the good things.”

Rebecca Meshel with some of her shelter-in-place artwork.
Rebecca Meshel with some of her shelter-in-place artwork.

Not all hobbyists prefer things nocturnal. Sasha Carey, 17, of Oakland had grown up watching her father, Jonathan Carey, founder of the pro-Israel marketing firm Blue Star PR, doing daily long-distance running, with family dog Maisy tagging along. Around the time the pandemic hit, Sasha decided to try running with her dad. “Instead of an animal running with him,” she remembers thinking, “it’ll be a human.”

The two started out with short distances, but after seven months, Sasha is up to three miles at a clip. “It was kind of difficult at first,” she says. “I am definitely seeing progress, and my dad has seen progress in me. Absolutely it has not only brought us closer than we already have been, it brings us both joy.”

Sasha admits the pandemic shutdown has been hard for her. When her school, Holy Names High School, switched to online classes, she figured it would be for only a few weeks. Now, she has had to make peace with the fact that her senior year has been radically disrupted. Running helped smooth out the rough edges.

“Obviously my legs don’t feel good,” she says, “but it’s definitely made me feel better.”

Rabbi Bloom articulates a Jewish interpretation of the need to make sense of the crisis. “Finding some structure is very important when trying to get through chaos,” he says. “It’s the lesson of Genesis 1: order out of chaos. It’s why Judaism has so many rules, fixed routines of prayer and blessings for everything. It’s the structure of the shiva and shloshim that enable mourners to get through a very difficult time, and this pandemic has certainly been a time of mourning.”

Oakland resident Sara Caplan, 28, found structure through performance. The UC Berkeley law student had always loved theater, and now she’s gone full Bard with 14th Night Players, an online theater troupe that performs readings of the works of Shakespeare. The plays are staged as radio dramas, complete with sound effects.

So far, Caplan has played Romeo, Shylock from “The Merchant of Venice,” the Duchess of Gloucester from “Henry VI, Part 2,” Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Odysseus from “Troilus and Cressida,” Parolles from “All’s Well That Ends Well” and, just to cover the “Romeo and Juliet” bases, Lady Capulet.

“No one in the company knew each other,” Caplan says of the actors, who live across the country. “I’ve never met any of the people in person. We do four shows a week, and you hop in and do it when you feel like it. We cast the show first come first serve an hour before, and it’s all cold reads.”

Caplan’s favorite Shakespeare play is the least familiar: “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” published in 1634 and of disputed authorship. “It’s generally considered one of his worst ones,” Caplan says, “but I really enjoyed it. Most people in the troupe are queer. There are so many gay jokes in Shakespeare that go over the heads of audiences.”

Having moved from Houston to the Bay Area last May, Caplan has felt more isolated than most during the pandemic. So the troupe has been a godsend. “It’s the best,” Caplan says. “It gives me something to look forward to. It’s such a great distraction, especially when everything is chaos at the moment.”

For Emma Goss, the chaos wasn’t limited to the outside world. The 27-year-old Kehillah Jewish High School graduate had been working as a TV journalist in Bakersfield when the pandemic struck. She came home to Mountain View in the spring, and a short time later her mother, Valerie Goss, was diagnosed with cancer.

Emma Goss reads aloud to her mother, Valerie.
Emma Goss reads aloud to her mother, Valerie.

Her high-flying day job abruptly shifted from journalist to caretaker.

“Mom was living her best life,” Goss recalls, “and then went in for a chest X-ray. We caught [the cancer] early enough. She needed surgeries in rapid succession. It was very difficult.”

Not long after she had returned home, Goss discovered a new pastime. Or, more accurately, rediscovered an old one: reading aloud. In the case of mother and daughter, the oeuvre of choice was the work of Jewish writers. Now, with her mother’s illness, the reading habit took on extra significance.

Among the books the two have read together are Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb, “Separated: Inside an American Tragedy” by investigative reporter Jacob Soboroff and “An Old Man’s Game: An Amos Parisman Mystery” by Andy Weinberger. Says Goss, “It’s something that requires no technology.”

Fortunately, her mom is doing well and is back at work as a psychotherapist.

Another Bay Area resident who found herself taking care of her mother during the pandemic is Lisa Geduldig, a San Francisco stand-up comic and creator of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. Last March, she flew to Florida for what she thought would be a brief visit to help her mother, Arline, recover from a heart attack.

Because of the pandemic, she’s still there.

Geduldig realized that her mother, at 89, needed more care. So she settled in, running her comedy production business via laptop. But to help her mom, and to pass the time, Geduldig, 58, got cooking. Specifically, she started making huge pots of soup. More specifically, pots of butternut squash soup.

“I’ve been single my whole life, and always cooked for myself,” she says. “I never had anyone  to cook for. I discovered early on in the pandemic that soup was popular with my mom. Soup is one of my comfort foods. Even if the weather is hot, it’s comforting and creamy.”

Lisa Geduldig slaving over a pot of borscht.
Lisa Geduldig slaving over a pot of borscht.

For Geduldig, living with her elderly mother and providing love and care add up to more than a list of soup ingredients. “I discovered I do have a Jewish mother gene, even though I didn’t have kids,” she says. “Now, being a part-time caregiver to my mom, I’m a Jewish mother. This was the perfect time to be here.”

Lockdown was also the perfect time for the Bloom brothers to work on their music. Micah had always enjoyed freestyle rapping with his friends but had never considered recording his music. This time was different, and he asked his brother to collaborate.

“We sat down and decided what types of things we’d do and figure out what makes me who I am,” Micah says. “Being a rabbi’s son was a major component of those conversations. So the song that meant the most to me was about that experience, and how to synthesize growing up in that environment.”

The result is an eight-song EP, “Quarantapes.” But there are no plans to share the project widely. “The idea was to see what comes out, and not take myself too seriously,” Micah says. “The finished product made me proud, but was personal in a way. It’s grounding to have that to look back on and that I made it with Jonah, my brother and best friend.”

Their parents were awakened a few times by the all-night recording process, but Rabbi Bloom for one is more than forgiving about his sons’ newfound hobby.

“It says in Psalm 30, that while ‘weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning,’” he says. “Either it can get you through the night, giving you something to look forward to doing the next morning, or, in my sons’ case, why not start the joy in the middle of the night?”

Have you taken up a pandemic hobby, pursued an interest or found a new passion? Write about it in 100 words or less and send it to editors@jweekly.com. Include a high-resolution photograph if you have one.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.