With the spread of the coronavirus, the world looks a little different this month than expected. In the face of quarantines and working from home, everyone has had to make adjustments to their daily life. That, of course, includes the Jewish community and all of its agencies and organizations.
Synagogues are streaming Shabbat services. Jewish organizations around the world are providing engaging content online including webinars, virtual events and even concerts. And our local Jewish agencies are doing everything they can to care for community members in need and keep the community connected -- albeit virtually.
“Now, more than ever, we need to be there for each other and ensure that our resilient community will come out stronger than ever on the other side of this,” said Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.
The Federation is in regular communication with all local agencies and synagogues to assess needs and offer assistance. Staff has continued to work remotely, has set up a resource page on the Federation website (www.jewishlehighvalley.org/coronavirus) and continues to communicate regularly through email and social media.
“We as a Federation, our job is to make sure that we help our agencies ... serve those in need in our community and abroad through exactly these types of crises,” said Federation President Gary Fromer. “That is exactly what Jeri and the team and our volunteers will continue to do, you have my assurance.”
Federation is working closely with Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Community Center to provide for older adults and those in need in the community.
While JFS has closed its offices and Community Food Pantry, staff and volunteers continue to work remotely to make sure that emergency needs are met. They are also continuing to conduct counseling over the phone and check in on clients who may be facing increased social isolation.
“We are not a crisis center, but thankfully we do have some resources available to help those who need it,” said Debbie Zoller, executive director of Jewish Family Service. “If you or anyone you know is in need of assistance, we urge you to leave a message at 610-821-8722.”
The JCC is also working with partner agencies to address needs in the community.
Their website, www.lvjcc.org/covid, features “JCC at Home” with many activity ideas for families. The JCC Facebook page has even more, with daily workout videos, children’s games, educational ideas and more. On Friday, March 20, JCC Executive Director Eric Lightman performed Shabbat songs with early childhood education families over Zoom for the school’s first virtual Shabbat.
“During this unprecedented time, our staff has created a series of new online programs essentially overnight to keep our community members engaged and connected,” said Lightman. “Maintaining connections with others is core to the JCC’s mission, and it has never been so critical as now while we are all stuck in our homes without our usual social interactions.”
The Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley quickly turned over to online learning, with teachers providing daily instruction, and is finding ways to retain community bonds while apart from each other (see story page 8). From Facebook interaction to sharing in a virtual bat mitzvah of one of their students, they are keeping the children’s spirits up during this anxiety-inducing time.
“Our teachers’ creative juices are flowing and their dedication is evident—what makes them stars in the classrooms has helped them shine online,” said Amy Golding, JDS head of school.
Israeli shlicha Rotem Bar is getting in on the action, hosting a contest for families to make their own versions of the Israeli flag and posting daily videos to the Federation Facebook page.
The Partnership2Gether committee in Yoav, Israel, the Lehigh Valley’s sister region, is in touch regularly, sharing updates about what residents there are doing to keep busy.
Many of our local synagogues are offering virtual Shabbat experiences. Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth has been hosting Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalah live on the temple’s Facebook page. Congregation Brith Sholom and Congregation Am Haskalah both held their Shabbat services via Zoom on March 20 and Congregation Keneseth Israel and Temple Covenant of Peace are working to launch their own virtual services. Congregation Sons of Israel is providing daily Daf Yomi and morning prayer group online.
And it doesn’t stop there. Many of Federation’s national and international partners are providing virtual content from PJ Library’s craft-alongs and virtual storytimes to Momentum’s daily “boost.” The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is providing frequent webinars with experts addressing the questions on everyone’s minds. AIPAC is sponsoring weekly engagement sessions for its club members. On March 22, The Jewish Agency for Israel hosted a concert on Facebook live with Idan Raichel which was watched by thousands and thousands of people from across the world.
As Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement to the global Jewish community, “The whole world is, right now, in a difficult time of fear and confusion because of the corona crisis which has turned all our lives upside down and which has claimed lives. Now is the time when every country is calling out to its citizens to deal with the dangers together. But at this difficult time, we here in Israel think of another ‘together’ that we are a part of, and look to you, our brothers and sisters of the global Jewish community. Your welfare and ours are inextricably linked.”
For links and to learn more, visit www.jewishlehighvalley.org/coronavirus or visit our agencies and synagogues on Facebook.