It’s been nearly three weeks since my organization’s operations left the building and “zoomed” into a real virtual reality. Like you, our staff is practicing social distancing — but staying connected more than ever before.
At the time of this writing, I have been holed up in a room, recently repurposed as an office, for the past 12 hours, typing away on my laptop, always connected to my iPhone through my earbuds. The thought of emerging in the next few hours to actually spend time with my wife and three children, who have returned to our nest in West Hartford from three different states, is blissfully energizing.
And so is my work. I feel a great sense of accomplishment and hope amid the tumult that is happening around us all. Through the wonder of videoconferencing, I continue to speak and work with so many good people who share the same conviction: We must all pull together to ensure that people have the human and financial resources to meet their basic needs — to get through the effects of COVID-19.
And while the news outside is worrisome and at times heartbreaking, the deeds, creativity and resiliency of so many people are inspiring. I am profoundly touched by their examples of generosity and compassion. Here are just two examples of the many things being accomplished in the Jewish community:
“Let all who are hungry, come and eat” — that verse comes straight from the Haggadah, the Jewish text that tells the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and acts as a guidebook for the Passover Seder. Heeding that cue, an amazing team of staff members from the Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services banded together to ensure that all will have enough to eat on the holiday.
Among their resourceful efforts is purchasing 1,000 frozen, kosher for Passover “airplane meals” from El Al Airline’s catering company to be delivered homebound seniors, families and Holocaust survivors. Meanwhile, JFS staff acquired non-perishable items from Foodshare and paper bags from Trader Joe’s in West Hartford, so they can stock their Kosher Food Pantry and with grab & go meal bags for people in need.
Staff are also using measures to stay safe through all of this — including wearing gloves donated from the J Café and masks purchased on Etsy — to ensure they can continue to be of service to our community, meeting critical and acute needs, while reducing risk for everyone involved.
Congregation Beth Israel, Temple Sinai and the Mandell Jewish Community Center all offered freezer space to help store these meals. Staff members are working with the Crown Market, Yosi Kosher Catering and Abel Caterers, which will be providing freshly prepared meals over the next few weeks. Additionally, staff from the Mandell JCC’s J Café and the University of Hartford’s Hillel and Dining Services have been extremely helpful by ordering non-perishable food items from their vendors — in case local food options aren’t readily available in the coming months.
To get all of this food out into the community, Federation, Foundation and JFS staff are in close contact with synagogues and Jewish agencies to see if their members and clients are in need of food, toiletries or hygiene products. As individuals and families in need are identified, we all will be delivering kosher non-perishables as well as the kosher for Passover meals. The plan is to do this twice a week — but if the needs increase — so will the deliveries.
Rapid Response and Recovery — The leaderships and staffs of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation jointly launched the Jewish Hartford Rapid Relief and Recovery Fund (the Fund) to address urgent needs in our local Jewish community related to COVID-19.
Initially, the Fund is providing financial assistance for basic needs to individuals and families in the Jewish community, along with funding and human resources to our community partners so they can ensure the consistent delivery of food, medicine and counseling to the homebound and those in need. The Foundation and Federation seeded the Fund with an initial contribution of $150,000, and has already received about $350,000 in additional gifts from generous community members. Contributions to this fund can be made online at https://www.jewishhartford.org/rapid-relief-recovery-fund.
It’s also worth noting how amazing our synagogues and agencies have been at making regular phone calls to their members and clients to combat social isolation, particularly among seniors and the homebound, and to inquire whether they need help. Synagogue services are being conducted virtually, counseling is being conducted by JFS via telehealth, Jewish day schools are providing distance learning, and the Mandell JCC is offering a bevy of programming and fitness classes online, too.
Finally, if there ever was a time that reminds us that it’s the people in our lives who mean the most — the ones who share our core values of kindness, purpose and possibility — it’s now. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for the people I work with. I’m grateful to all the people who are doing much — particularly our heroic healthcare workers — to safeguard our vibrant community that I so treasure.
Be well and keep safe.