Jewish Federation: Mental Health Needs, Celebrating Sigd


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Meeting Mental Health Needs During COVID
When COVID-19 hit, mental and behavioral health service providers like Jewish Family & Children’s Services faced an immediate challenge: They needed to figure out a way to shift to a pandemic-friendly service model, fast.

“We closed our offices on a Friday knowing that, on Monday, services needed to continue without interruption,” said Courtney Owen, director of Individual and Family Services at JFCS. “And we were able to do it.”

By rapidly scaling up their telehealth operations — such as HIPPA-compliant Zoom rooms — JFCS was able to continue offering all of their services, such as mental health counseling and care management. But that victory was followed by the realization that many of the vulnerable people they work with, such as low income seniors, were suddenly facing immediate threats to basic needs like food and shelter.

“Help from the Jewish Federation’s Emergency Fund made a big difference in meeting those basic needs,” said Owen. “In general, the Federation has been really great and flexible in allowing us to make the transitions we needed to continue services.”

Our Emergency Fund is our COVID-response initiative to help our partner agencies meet community needs during the pandemic. So far, we have raised and allocated over $2 million to organizations in the Philadelphia area.
In addition to basic needs grants, our Emergency Fund also helped to fund an additional therapist, which Owen said was sorely needed, as the number of people seeking counseling has rapidly increased.

“Every population and age range is experiencing increased stress, albeit in different ways,” said Owen. “Parents are having to make decisions about their kids’ risk factors. Older adults aren’t able to see their families. Younger people are at an increased risk of suicide and depression.”

To address this, JFCS has introduced special programming to help people deal with issues around COVID. This includes a bereavement group for those who have lost loved ones to the disease, financial empowerment groups that support those who have lost a job, and informational sessions about benefits which are streamed online.

Still, JFCS says their work isn’t done.

“Even though the need has increased, we know from looking at the data that it’s only going to go up,” said Owen. “We know we need to be prepared to meet it as it comes.”

Sigd Celebrations: The Ethiopian Jewish Community and Philly’s Special Connection to It
At sundown on Nov. 15, exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish world’s most important — but less well-known — holidays began: Sigd.

Celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community (also known as Beta Israel), Sigd commemorates the day when G-d revealed himself to Moses. On this holiday, Ethiopian Jews fast, read scripture, and pray for the restoration of the Temple. The holiday culminates with dancing and a special meal to break the fast.

In Israel, Sigd is an official state holiday and is used as a way to celebrate the Ethiopian community. While Ethiopian Jews make up some of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, they are relatively recent immigrants to Israel. Banned by the Ethiopian government from making aliyah, Beta Israel Jews risked everything to come to Israel through a series of daring airlift missions that began in the 1980s.

Today, there are 120,00 Jews of Ethiopian descent living in Israel. While they still face discrimination and barriers to assimilation, Ethiopian Jews have become an integral part of the fabric of Israeli life, rising to high positions in pop culture, industry and government.

Here in Philadelphia, we are lucky to have a connection to the Beta Israel community through our partnership region of Netivot and Sdot Negev. Located in Israel’s southern tip, our partnership region is a vibrant and diverse area filled with recent olim (immigrants), including a significant Ethiopian population.

We are proud to fund initiatives that directly impact Ethiopian-Israelis, including an Ethiopian Community Garden, which provides green space and helps Ethiopians maintain their agricultural traditions. We also support the Kaiserman Ethiopian Center, named for the Philadelphia philanthropist who was an early Western advocate for Ethiopian Jewish aliyah.

So, to all our friends who celebrated, we hope you had a happy Sigd!


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