The burgeoning crisis around the novel coronavirus prompted the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia convened leaders online March 13 to discuss the local Jewish community’s response to the crisis.
Many participants, including rabbis, community leaders and organization executives, shared their concerns over isolation, watching out for scams and computer viruses and relying on electronics to be connected.
Jewish Federation Chief Operating Officer Steve Rosenberg said all Jewish Federation events and external meetings from March 15 through the end of Passover have been postponed. The organization will attempt to conduct as many meetings as possible by phone or video conference, with updates sent via email and posted online to jewishphilly.org.
“We know many of you have also had the unfortunate circumstance to have to cancel many important events and gatherings,” Rosenberg said. “While events are postponed, the Jewish Federation intends to continue its day-to-day operation and remain a strong support network for our community at large.”
The Jewish Federation also is disinfecting its building at 2100 Arch St., which was largely closed starting March 16.
In addition, Jewish Federation’s main phone lines will be redirected to staff members’ cellphones to ensure people can still reach them.
Melissa Greenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, announced the creation of an emergency fund to raise money for the concerns addressed on the call.
Brian Gralnick, director of social responsibility at the Jewish Federation, said all five of the Mitzvah Food Program pantries will remain open; however, clients will not be allowed to enter the buildings to browse for food like before. Instead, clients will drive up and be handed prepackaged bags of food by volunteers.
Gralnick said the pantries haven’t experienced any problems with their supply chains, so there’s no concern about running out of food. It is anticipated, though, that there will be an increase in usage due to more people staying at home.
Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, executive director of Drexel Hillel, spoke of the Jewish response on local college campuses. Drexel Hillel’s physical space at the Perelman Center has been closed to programming and has advised students to celebrate Shabbat in small groups.
Rabbi Gil Perl, head of school at Kohelet Yeshiva, updated the situation at area day schools, noting that at his school, students are relying on Google Suite, Zoom and other programs to ensure learning continues from home.
Because of the reliance on digital devices, there was concern that schools might not have enough for every student, he said. To help, an email was sent asking people to bring electronic devices to Morris and Rose Caskey Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia. There they will be catalogued and loaned to students until they can return to campus.
Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion reported that many local synagogues have chosen to hold Shabbat services with limited numbers of people along with closing adult education programs and religious schools. Yanoff said such closures have led to some interesting challenges for religious practices.
“I think about the name in Hebrew for a synagogue is a big Knesset, a place of gathering,” Yanoff said. “And we’re being told, specifically, not to gather.”
Adath Israel has hosted digital minyans, with people adding themselves via live streaming from its website and Facebook Live to ensure a quorum. For Shabbat, a camera is preset to ensure streaming. This week, the synagogue will host a bat mitzvah, but only the family and a few others will attend in person. Everyone else will participate via live streaming.
Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife, spoke of the response of Jewish organizations serving seniors. He said his staff held an emergency board meeting on March 10 and decided to cancel all KleinLife services starting the next day.
Krug expressed concern for seniors who may feel isolated due to living alone in houses. KleinLife staff has called seniors to check in on them and ask if they need assistance.
As for food, Krug said requests from its home-delivered meals program have skyrocketed.
“We could be struggling for a while, and we may get to the point where we’ll actually have to purchase meals to deliver,” Krug said. “And kosher meals are not cheap, and we’ll have to deal with that when the situation arises and we’ll be looking for help from (Jewish) Federation to meet this emergency.”
For future updates, visit jewishphilly.org.