Judaism teaches, “al tifrosh min hatzibur”— do not separate yourself from the community. This idea of communal connection, expressed in Hillel’s saying, is foundational to Judaism. Fortunately, today we can maintain that feeling of connectedness without compromising one another physically.
As the coronavirus situation has unfolded, we have needed to change our methods but have certainly maintained our mission: to engage our Jewish community and provide assistance to those in need. Luckily, through the hard work and quick thinking of our staff and volunteers, we were able to turn the page swiftly.
As we began social distancing, we were able within days to launch a virtual resource page on our website filled with local and national links to Jewish content. We converted our normal weekly events email to a virtual events email. We created a brand new calendar on our website just for virtual events, which we are populating and updating all the time.
We felt it was important to provide our own content, so we created an opportunity called Daily Learning with Rotem. This video series has been very successful. We post a new video on the Federation’s Facebook page each weekday at 12 p.m. of Rotem Bar, our community shlicha, sharing a recipe, craft, story or dance. The posts have gotten great responses and positive reactions. We have also created a webpage on our site where we have collected these videos. Please be sure to take a look – they are fun!
Our Women’s Philanthropy is moving forward with virtual events, including our annual Spring Event. We hope you will join us to connect with women from across the Lehigh Valley on Thursday, May 7, at 7 p.m., for a moving presentation entitled “Dancing Between the Raindrops” with guest speaker Lisa Friedman Clark.
On a more solemn note, we produced a Yom HaShoah video so that we could commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day as a community. Partnering with JFS, we offered a webinar on mindfulness and dealing with stress. And we will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut with a live dance party and tie our community into the Jewish Federations of North America’s celebrity-filled global celebration.
The PJ Library Parents in the Lehigh Valley Facebook page has also been quite active, not only sharing a story walk to the book “The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah” by Leslie Kimmelman, but also sharing daily activities and content with PJ communities around the world.
As social distancing began, we were one week away from going to press with the April HAKOL. While we reach a large portion of our community through email, we understood the importance of reaching those we don’t through this publication. Our staff didn’t miss a beat, quickly switching gears on content to include a special coronavirus resource section. And, we are here again for May.
Our Community Relations Council has been very active in the last month to help both our Jewish community and our interfaith community in the Lehigh Valley. Our advocacy, coordinated with JFNA, resulted in the availability of funds provided to nonprofits and religious institutions through the CARES Act. Once the CARES Act passed, we shared information with our synagogues and agencies. The SBA payroll protection program is a lifeline for us all during this crisis. We also promoted the JFNA helpline to assist our Jewish organizations through this process. At the same time, our Federation shared the information with our interfaith partners to ensure that they could also benefit from the passage of the CARES Act. For many of our partners in the community, our Federation has been a strong support system during the crisis. At our request, alongside other CRC directors, JFNA hosted an interfaith webinar to help our broader community apply for the loans. The CRC also prepared an information sheet about “Zoombombing” and alerted our partners and our interfaith partners to help us all protect our new virtual platforms.
And when it became clear that critical needs were arising, we launched the Coronavirus Emergency Fund to provide for the most vulnerable in our community and ensure our Jewish agencies remain vibrant and strong. To date, we have raised over $55,000 from more than 125 donors, and have already allocated a total of $170,000 in emergency funds through this fund and other funding sources.
We might be apart physically, but it is incumbent on us to build community in other ways so that when we emerge from this situation, we will be stronger than when we started. When your world seems out of control or turned upside down, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Friends, family and community are a sustaining force in our lives.
Please, do not separate yourself from our community. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to visit our website at www.jewishlehighvalley.org and follow our Facebook page to find more ways to stay connected.