By Gevura Davis
With the world in a state of flux and somewhat chaotic, I wasn’t sure if people would be running away from religion in a time like this or toward it. With Passover upon us, I got my answer.
My husband and I work full time for Aish Chaim, a Jewish outreach initiative and synagogue. Like everyone, we have struggled to understand our place and role in this new reality. We had a Zoom board meeting a few weeks ago, and members shared that we felt a collective responsibility to help make sure people would not “pass over” Passover this year. With so many people used to being with other relatives or friends, the concern was real.
With everyone staying home, how could they possibly get all of the necessary items to make a seder? So we decided we wanted to make it easier for people, adding the touch of personalized deliveries. Within a week, 100 families signed up, many of whom we have never met. And we are just one organization doing this.
Aish Chaim board member and Kaiserman JCC President Cindy Smukler herself delivered another 40. And so many more projects have been in motion from all the local Chabad houses. What an incredible community we are blessed to be a part of.
We are not a professional catering or delivery service, so developing the manpower for such an endeavor required not just logistic organization, but a committed team of volunteers. Our extremely dedicated friend Ofelia Cohen at A la Karte Catering set to work to create a seder plate that was beautiful and felt like home. Several volunteers stepped up to the plate to make the deliveries possible, as did generous donors who wanted to make sure no family did not receive due to financial constraints.
Seeing the community spring into action at this time taught us several key lessons I wanted to share about people in the age of COVID-19.
People want to connect to others. At a time when we are physically distant from our families and friends, our desire for connectivity and intimacy has not diminished. We have to continue to try to find ways to speak to others through all of the amazing mediums available to us.
People want to help. One Facebook post, not even mentioning the need for help, yielded five phone calls within the hour. We have two choices before us, to become more selfish (often motivated by fear) or less selfish.
Every day we read in the news that more and more people are choosing selflessness. Wherever possible, we fill our own cups by giving to others. We rise by lifting others, and it feels incredible to be a part of that.
People want to connect to spirituality and religion. I wouldn’t blame people for thinking they have more on their plate and in their lives this year. However, something incredible is happening. Our phones are ringing off the hook and our inbox is full of questions regarding Passover. People are calling every hour to discuss G-d, the purpose of suffering and asking how they can connect to their roots.
To some degree we all feel we are in that proverbial foxhole, where all the atheists are outed. Crises make us face some of the existential questions we otherwise bury into the recesses of our to-do lists. Spiritual leaders, while grappling with our own challenges during this time, are always available to discuss more, to connect deeper and to share insight from our ancient wisdom for modern minds.
People want to give. We all feel powerless in the face of the financial pain and strain the world is facing. Most of us are worried for our own futures, and yet it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to those less fortunate. Every year there is a custom to collect money to help families who are not otherwise able to pay for the expense of the holiday. We were worried this year that not enough people would donate. However, thankfully we were pleasantly surprised with the opposite reaction. We had more than double the amount of money from last year donated.
People want to love. It has been so inspiring to see so many people order seder packages not only for themselves but for their parents, adult children, in-laws, friends, and neighbors. In one 24-hour period alone, nine people reached out to ask if we could send to someone else. As we feel scared, our desire to love others only intensifies, because it is a Jewish and human value.
I hope that all of these incredible lessons and more will help us stay connected, maintain inspiration and feel that each day is a gift. Although this Passover is certainly not what any of us imagined or hoped it would be, we all have the opportunity to come together as a community and remember that we are part of a chain of Jews going back 3,000 years.
Each one of us is a link in that chain, and life and holidays do not have to be perfect to be beautiful and meaningful. It has really been an honor and privilege to connect with so many community members in this way. Chag sameach!
Gevura Davis is the director of engagement at Aish Chaim.