Since COVID-19 befell us, I, like so many, have been sheltering in place. I am home with my three children, my husband, a yard, a full refrigerator, a dog. I have stacks of books and websites with watchlists. I feel like one of the lucky ones. Every day, I pray for continued health for myself and my family. I give thanks to the medical professionals and workforce that keeps us alive and I think of my grandmother often.
My Oma was born in 1922 and raised in Amsterdam. She remembered a mostly happy, privileged childhood, despite her mother dying when she was 13. As life became more restricted, she stayed in Amsterdam instead of fleeing with her father and brother, who were later captured and killed in Auschwitz. Eventually, thanks to my grandfather, she found a place to hide in East Holland and was kept by a righteous family who had never met a Jew before. They built her a safe room underground.
She lived with these strangers, who became family, for 16 months. Her fear wasn’t getting or spreading a virus. It was being caught by the Nazis and putting this new family and herself at risk. There was no news from the outside world. She had no idea of when or if she would be freed. There was no technology, no Wi-Fi or distractions. Her only visitor was my grandfather, who would risk the journey to check on her. This was their love story, which lasted over 50 years — until my Opa died on June 13, 2007 — and led to the birth of my father in November 1945.
If you knew my grandmother at all, you knew an optimist, a romantic, a liberal. She believed in love. She never complained. She kept busy and fit. She survived. She even thrived. But she never forgot or took her freedom for granted. She would stand up during Magid at our seders and invite us to remember with her. With her strong Dutch accent and her voice cracking with emotion, she reminded us that the story of the Exodus wasn’t just something that happened in Egypt thousands of years ago. Amalek had returned in her lifetime. She had gone from bondage to freedom.
Remembering Oma gives me strength and perspective. I feel so proud of her. I miss her. And I honor her. She asked us not to take our freedom for granted. Stay alert. Stay grateful. Stay connected. Appreciate life. Appreciate love. Have hope.
Jennifer Groen is the director of strategy and enrollment at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
The cast of the hit Israeli drama “Shtisel,” which has become a worldwide sensation, released a video of Passover greetings from the cast.
The video released April 8 includes virtual and verbal hugs from series producer Dikla Barkai and actors Dov Glickman (who portrays Shulem); Michael Aloni (Akiva); Neta Riskin (Gitti); Sasson Gabai (Nukhem); and Zohar Strauss (Lipe).
“We’ll be back soon, as soon as this whole thing is over,” Riskin says, referring to the coronavirus crisis.
The London-based Jewish News organized the video.
“We’ll see you all on the other side of this,” Glickman says, warning those holding seders to stay six feet away from Elijah the Prophet when he visits on seder night.
Filming of season 3 of “Shtisel” had been scheduled to begin in May but has been put on hold.
The first two cases of COVID-19 in Montgomery county, home to Perelman Jewish Day School, both Stern and Forman Centers, and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, were confirmed on March 7. It only took five days until, on March 12, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the closing of all schools in Montgomery county beginning the following day.
Perelman Jewish Day School followed the advice from Wolf as it was released, and immediately made plans for online and at-home learning. So far, there have been two phases of Perelman’s distance learning plan with a third on the way. Phase one was a continuation of the “Boker Tov” (Good Morning) meetings that students usually participate in each morning at school. These meetings last about an hour and are used to update students on the situation as it develops. The school is currently in phase two, which includes one period of Jewish studies and one period of general studies a day along with the “Boker Tov” meetings and daily services. While this phase incorporates much more learning than in phase one, Perelman hopes to add even more opportunities for learning in phase three which has yet to be announced.
The students have appreciated the online classes and creative at-home projects such as practicing math by calculating the area and perimeter of several rooms in their houses. Perelman has worked hard and “done [their] best to create a compromise between screen time for the younger children and creative learning at home” said Mindy Andelman, Perelman Director of Admissions. Students have been experiencing expected difficulties, however, with the lack of in-person attention, and the administrators have been facing the challenge of making learning schedules that accommodates everyone’s needs and desires.
Perelman had to quickly create an infrastructure of technology including emails, google suite, and canvas and guarantee that all students had the access to the technology they needed and were able to use it. The teachers have stepped up and made the most for the children, ensuring that they are eager to learn and experience sparks of normalcy in these unprecedented times.
In addition to operating classes, Perelman has provided non-academic programming that has had great response. Storytime with the principal, baking classes, and indoor recess have been full of students enthusiastic about spending more time with their teachers and deepening their already strong connection to both their teachers and the school.
Similar to Perelman, when schools closed on March 13, Barrack teachers responded immediately, making a plan to continue the curriculum without losing any content or depth. The teachers were all already “experts in their field, but they had to become experts overnight in teaching online,” which is a whole new ball-game for any teacher, Barrack administrator and parent Jen Groen said. Barrack teachers did not waste a minute as classes reconvened online on March 18, giving them only a short three days to adjust to the new technology and consider any family needs that they needed to attend to in this time of uncertainty.
Unlike some high schools who are continuing learning with at-home, individual assignments, Barrack provides a full day of online classes, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The problems that arose from distance learning were all immediate and obvious, accompanied by swift and effective responses. Barrack has been very open to feedback and implementing new procedures where it can. For example, Barrack has been posting videos every morning from the Dean of Students, Dr. Darin Katz, which includes information a student might need for that particular school day.
Barrack has also been putting particular emphasis on keeping up with student’s Social Emotional Learning during this time. Groen explained that this is not just distance learning, it is learning in a time of crisis. Most importantly, they must respond to the needs of the community and try to understand what is going on with every family. Barrack’s guidance counselor, Amy Grolnick, has been reaching out to students, and the Physical Education department has been sending out instructional videos to keep students active. This is certainly a time of uncertainty for everyone, but Barrack has been doing its best to keep fulfilling each student’s academic, physical, and emotional needs.
Both Barrack Hebrew Academy and Perelman Jewish Day School have truly made learning possible for the students and given them sparks of normalcy while being stuck at home. Teachers, Administrators, parents, and students have all worked together to not only get through the day, but also to create experiences that students will remember and use to build character. The students living and learning through this crisis will come out the other side stronger and with a better idea of what it means to be a leader. As the students come together each day, they can see the true and widespread effects of this strong Jewish community.
Devora Solomon of Wynnewood and Rebecca Shaid of Merion Station are both senior at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
It’s been nearly three weeks since Amy Breslow dropped her husband, Brett, at Cooper University Hospital’s emergency room.
He’d had an intermittent fever, cough and shortness of breath for days, so on the night of March 20, Breslow drove her husband, a software engineer, Navy vet and father of two, to the downtown Camden, New Jersey, hospital from their home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Husband and wife haven’t talked since.
Since that drop-off, Brett Breslow’s been in critical condition in Cooper’s intensive care unit, admitted there first for pneumonia in both lungs that was later determined to be a byproduct of the COVID-19 coronavirus, much like the kidney failure he suffered just a few days later.
Intubated, sedated and on dialysis, Brett Breslow doesn’t have the capacity for dialogue at present, though his wife and kids have been able to virtually visit with him via FaceTime whenever doctors and nurses are willing to double as production staff.
Amy Breslow, however, does have the capacity for dialogue and, over the past several weeks she’s used it, making rounds on local and national television — from CBS3 and NBC10 to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and the venerable top doc of daytime, “Dr. Oz” — to shed light on an investigational treatment she and doctors believe could benefit her husband and others.
Referred to as blood plasma treatment or convalescent serum therapy, the concept underlying the treatment is relatively simple and has been around for more than a century.
The thinking is that someone who’s had the COVID-19 coronavirus and recovered has developed the right type of custom-built antibodies to combat the virus. So, by extracting antibody-rich plasma from the recovered patient and infusing the same into the infected patient, the latter, in theory, should experience a boosted immune response to the virus.
Medical opinion is largely split as to whether convalescent plasma would offer those with COVID-19 a therapeutic benefit, nothing at all or, the worst-case scenario in the practice of medicine, something harmful.
But given the dire combination of rapidly deteriorating patients and a dearth of alternatives, doctors are willing to press ahead with a treatment that has a long history of mixed results.
“Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route because, unfortunately, there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care,” Eric Salazar, principal investigator in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, told USA Today on April 1. “For now, plasma therapy is one of the few options for doctors when critically ill patients don’t have much time.”
This type of plasma therapy is not a panacea; it is a tourniquet, a way to buy time in a flu pandemic until a vaccine is developed.
The most optimistic forecasts project an approved vaccine to be 18 months away. So even if plasma therapy isn’t the treatment patients deserve, might it be the one they
need right now?
“Based on what the doctors have shared with me, they have multiple treatments in their arsenal, and the plasma treatment is one of them,” Amy Breslow said. While she said that her husband’s doctors had requested that the Food and Drug Administration authorize the use of convalescent plasma in his case, her conversations with them have suggested that they’re unlikely to be overzealous in its application.
“I don’t think they think that the plasma is the only thing; there are many, many things they’re using to treat people,” Breslow said. “To use the plasma, the entire treatment team has to be in agreement that it’s the best course.”
Still, in the absence of anything more promising, Breslow continues to campaign for more places for potential plasma donors to be tested and more places for those who are eligible and fully recovered to donate.
Progress has been slow, Breslow said, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s just not enough testing available — and this severely limits the amount of eligible plasma donors that can be identified. To add to the burden, the FDA, Breslow said, requires prospective plasma donors to produce two negative test results in addition to being symptom-free for 14 days.
And even with the testing that is available, there’s too much variability in the amount of time it takes to get results.
For example, Breslow said that her 17-year-old daughter was tested at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she received a negative result in hours. Breslow herself, meanwhile, was tested elsewhere and her results took five to six days.
“Patients in critical condition don’t have five or six days,” she said.
While frustrating, these matters of logistics and infrastructure can be remedied with the right combination of willpower and political capital. Breslow’s got plenty of the former and increasing amounts of the latter.
“We’ve had a lot of people at the state and local level helping us, including my husband’s employer, Lockheed Martin,” she said, acknowledging that representatives from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office have reached out and pledged their support. “In the past couple of days, we were able to finally get donors tested.”
Still, all the political will can’t lead scientists to understand that which continues to elude them.
“Medically, there’s a lot they still don’t know about this virus,” Breslow said. “We’ve had several (seemingly recovered prospective plasma donors) take a second COVID test who are still testing positive even though they are 14 days symptom-free, or longer.”
Though still a believer in the potential efficacy of antibody-laden plasma from fully recovered donors, Breslow acknowledges that more work to ascertain whether “recovered” patients are truly virus-free needs to be done.
In the meantime, the most recent reports Breslow has received from her husband’s doctors give reason for cautious optimism.
“He’s still critical, but if he continues to improve, he may not need the plasma,” she said. “But right now, we don’t know that 100%. And there are also others that do need it, so we’re still pushing.”
The National Museum of Jewish American History filed for bankruptcy last month — then things got worse, not just there, but for everyone.
All of Philadelphia’s Jewish arts and culture community screeched to a halt in the wake of the social distancing measures implemented to combat COVID-19. And with Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order expanded to encompass the entire state, all museums, galleries, theaters, musicians and dance studios have taken a financial hit.
NMJAH had to close its building and postpone the opening of its latest traveling exhibit, “The Evidence Room.” Chief Curator Josh Perelman said while they haven’t resorted to layoffs or furloughs, all staff has taken pay cuts.
Meantime, Jewish organizations like Theatre Ariel have postponed or canceled all events planned for March, April and potentially beyond.
“The virus coming at this time is a big loss because we had a really wonderfully busy spring setup,” Artistic Director Deborah Baer Mozes said. “It hurts the theater financially. It hurts our artists. And to be honest, we’re a theater. We want to perform. We want to be with our audiences. So I have to say, I miss my audience.”
Mozes hopes to reschedule her programs, including Jesse Bernstein’s one-man show “The Scribe,” for sometime in June or the fall, if possible.
Along with institutions, individual Jewish performers are in a bind. Musicians who rely on live performances at bars, restaurants and event halls are now scrambling to supplement lost income.
“We are part of a phenomenon of musicians who are wondering how the heck they’re going to make a living,” said Joey Weisenberg, a musician and founder/co-director of Hadar’s Rising Song Institute. “It’s quite a worry, quite a source of anxiety for musicians and for everybody. That seems to be the case around the whole arts community.”
But out of adversity comes innovation, with many performers and institutions turning to the web to continue reaching their audiences.
The Old City Jewish Arts Center created a virtual walkthrough of its gallery in the vein of Google Street View, giving a 360-degree view of the current exhibition. Galley Executive Director Rabbi Zalman Wircberg said the center plans to use Instagram Live and Zoom to stream classes and provide other services. In addition, all proceeds for any artwork sold will go toward supporting the health care system and people in need of food and other necessities.
“So we are still servicing them in the spiritual, physical way, just with the disabilities of not coming together under the same roof,” Wircberg said. “It’s very tough, very challenging, but with every challenge comes new opportunities.”
“This is a challenging time for everyone and the impact of coronavirus has been that we all had to reinvent how we operate,” Perelman said. “I’m optimistic about our present and our future, given all of the challenges that the cultural community is facing, and we look forward to many more months to come of excellent new content.”
On March 30, Theatre Ariel streamed a live performance of Bernstein’s one-man show “Ethics of The Fathers (aka The Gangster and The Grandpa).” Mozes said the stream was well received and allowed the theater to reach “audiences from coast to coast.” The theater is looking at doing another livestream geared toward families and potentially streaming a short excerpt from Bernstein’s “The Scribe” as a show teaser.
“This is totally new territory for us. And it’s a little weird for theater because it’s such a collaborative art form,” Mozes said. “It’s a hardship, but we tried to turn lemons into lemonade.”
A number of artists, both big names and small, have begun livestreaming performances on social media.
Philadelphia-based musician Hadar McNeill livestreamed her most recent performance on April 8, raising funds for the Philadelphia Musicians Relief Fund. Musician Dot Levine took social distancing to a new level, performing for audiences a good distance from their front doors across the city. Levine’s shows were covered in a video by WHYY.
Also hopping on the livestream trend is Project Moshen, an all-female professional jazz dance company based in Philadelphia. The group has begun streaming free dance classes on social media, Artistic Director Kelli Moshen said.
“We are actually getting a lot of new followers throughout this,” Moshen said. “It’s kind of funny, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise in a way, even though it’s like this awful thing happening. Everyone’s really tuning in and seeing what is out there, especially in the dance world. People are fixated on what’s happening now. And this is giving a great opportunity for people to just do some research and see what else is out there.”
And a local dance group run by Asya Zlatina has also started to stream free dance classes.
ARTIST HOUSE’s bimonthly HashtagTMI series moved online, with the next diary reading to be streamed on April 11 via Zoom.
On April 2, Zlatina released “Carry On,” a video consisting of nine dancers each filming from their homes.
“I’m so grateful that my dancers didn’t just lay down and say, ‘No, this is too different. Or what’s the point?’” Zlatina said. “It’s important to use our gift to uplift the world at this time.”
People know what to serve at Passover seders: gefilte fish, matzah ball soup, hard-boiled eggs and Bubbe’s brisket. But after consuming those fancy, filling meals, a whole week looms ahead, a time when people are both observing Passover and figuring out what to eat.
Adding to the challenge this year, there is widespread coronavirus, which has made meal planning during Passover more complicated. People are fearful of food shopping, so they visit supermarkets infrequently or rely on food delivery services, which are sometimes overwhelmed with demand. Due to sporadic shortages, ingredients are sometimes unavailable. I’ve learned to make substitutions.
Traditionally, I prefer foods during Passover that are lighter than typical seder dishes and more like the way I usually eat. I gravitate toward the Mediterranean diet, incorporating Sephardi cuisine into menus. I serve wholesome chicken and fish with fresh vegetables and fruit.
Over Passover’s eight days, I like light fare that may not be dressy enough for seders but is simply delicious.
Why is this Passover different than all other Passovers? Because with the COVID-19 pandemic, groceries are less accessible than usual. Therefore, many of the ingredients in the recipes below can be altered or adjusted as indicated.
Toasted Matzah and Olive Oil | Pareve
This is a tasty snack or hors d’oeuvre.
2 tablespoons olive oil, or more, if needed
¼ teaspoon garlic powder or onion powder
2 squares of matzah, broken into 4 pieces (8 pieces in all)
Kosher salt to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the matzah pieces on aluminum foil.
Place the olive oil and garlic or onion powder in a small pot. Heat over a medium-low flame until warm.
Slide the matzah into the oven. Bake for 2-3 minutes, or until warmed through and browning on the edges. Remove the matzah from the oven. Brush the olive oil mixture lightly on the matzah. Sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.
Fish Tagine | Pareve
Moroccan Jews adore tagines, which are slow-cooked stews. This recipe is a main dish in one pot.
Nonstick vegetable spray or oil for coating
Kosher salt to taste
4 potatoes, any kind, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices
6 (6-ounce) skinned fish fillets, such as snapper, halibut, cod or tilapia
4 tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch slices, or use canned tomatoes
⅓ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
2 lemons, cut into ¼-inch slices
10 parsley sprigs or cilantro springs, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon white pepper, or use black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, or any cooking oil
Coat a large Dutch oven with nonstick spray or oil. Sprinkle a little salt on the sliced potatoes, and arrange them in the bottom of the Dutch oven. They can overlap. Sprinkle a little salt on the fish fillets. Cover the potatoes with fish. Then add a layer of tomatoes.
Mix the turmeric into the water and pour it in. Cover the Dutch oven and simmer over a low flame, until the potatoes are slightly tender, about 15 minutes after the water comes to a simmer.
Squeeze a couple of lemon slices over the top. Sprinkle in the parsley, garlic and pepper. Cover and simmer until the fish is flaky, about 20 minutes. Spoon olive oil over the dish. Place the remaining lemon slices over the top and serve immediately.
Ratatouille | Pareve
Yield: 8 servings
This Provençal vegetable medley is as healthy as it is delicious.
2 medium eggplants, skinned and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ pound mushrooms, sliced. Use canned mushrooms if fresh ones are unavailable.
Olive oil, as needed, or use any cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium zucchini or yellow squash, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 plum tomatoes, diced, or used canned tomatoes
1 teaspoon thyme leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or any vinegar on hand
In a large saucepan, sauté the eggplant and mushrooms in olive oil over a medium flame. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until lightly browned. Add the zucchini, onion, garlic and tomatoes. Stir until the vegetables soften, about 20 minutes. Add more oil, if needed.
Sprinkle in the thyme. Add the lemon juice and vinegar, mixing well.
Serve hot or at room temperature. Or refrigerate covered for up to 2 days and serve hot or cold.
Sephardi-Style Macaroons | Pareve
Yield: 36 cookies
Instead of vanilla, this recipe is traditionally made with rosewater or orange blossom water, which are often too assertive for Ashkenazi tastes.
Equipment: food processor, 3 baking sheets, 3 pieces of parchment paper and an electric mixer
3 cups blanched slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla, orange extract or lemon extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cover the baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process the almonds until they are ground fine, like coarse sand. Move them to a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, egg whites and vanilla or lemon or orange extract. Using an electric mixer, mix the ingredients until well combined.
Drop the mixture from a teaspoon onto the baking sheets. Leaving space between cookie dough, there should be 12 cookies on each sheet.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. The cookies will be soft when removed from the oven, which guarantees a chewy texture. Cool for 2 minutes on cookie sheets and move them to platters until they reach room temperature. Serve immediately or move the cookies to containers with a strong seal. This recipe freezes well.
This week, Jewish communities around the world have come together to celebrate and observe Passover. The cherished seders are steeped in tradition and marked as a time when friends and family near and far come together to reconnect over our shared history.
Everyone has his or her favorite part of their evening, such as when the youngest at our table is tasked with asking the four questions, starting with Ma nishtana: Why is this night different from all other nights?
How could a question have more meaning at this moment in time? To be sure, these last several weeks have felt more different and unsettling than anything we have ever experienced. The COVID-19 virus is a modern-day plague of a magnitude not experienced in any of our lifetimes.
For many of us, observing Passover this year makes our current reality even more terrifying, and reminds us how alone and isolated we are. As we observe the holiday alone or gathered with just the occupants of our household, making do with limited ingredients and including video and Zoom for the first time, the ancient story of freedom from bondage takes on a whole new level of importance.
As Jews, we are taught that freedom is the fundamental right of humanity. On Passover, we take pride in encouraging our children to approach life as if they personally were the ones who bravely left Egypt to seek out safety and independence.
We remind them that we lost our freedom so that Jews would always know what it felt like to be a slave, and that it was our duty to become the world’s most consistent fighters for freedom. We remind them that we wandered in the desert for 40 years so we would not lose the lesson of valuing the sanctity of life and so that we as Jews would never settle for anything less than freedom in every generation.
But how can we make this message resonate as we shield ourselves from suffering and shelter in place in our homes? Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who is watching the COVID-19 pandemic devastate Europe, recently shed some wisdom that struck a chord with me. He reminded us that, “When we share our affliction with others, when we share what little we have with others, we turn the bread of affliction into the bread of freedom. Affliction shared is the beginning of redemption.”
Sacks reminds us that while we may mourn the fact that we are alone on Passover due to social isolation, the truth is that we have actually never been more together and united, both as Jews, and as members of the human race. While we may be cut off from one another, every person on the planet is tasting the bitterness of suffering. We are all scared, we are all worried about our families and we are all fumbling in the darkness.
It can be hard to see beyond our own suffering, but on Passover we are reminded that we don’t recall just the agony of our ancestors, but that we also share in the pain of the suffering of the Egyptians who drowned in the Red Sea. The Passover story set forth in the Haggadah is a reinforcement of these Jewish values, and during the time of the coronavirus this brings me hope. We know that shared suffering brings people together, even people who found it very hard to come together before.
For every news story on the tragedy of the pandemic, so too are there incredible stories of people working collectively to combat the suffering of others. As the board chair of the Jewish Federation, I have marveled at the speed and efficiency at which our community has united to share critical resources to support our most vulnerable residents, including the hundreds of Holocaust survivors who have been retraumatized by this pandemic.
We’ve seen hundreds of volunteers step up and take on new roles as food delivery drivers, mask sewers and caregivers. The generosity of our donors is unparalleled: our emergency response fund has now raised nearly $1 million to be disbursed to organizations who are doing amazing work on the front lines of this pandemic.
I am humbled by the people who have again put their faith in trust in their Jewish Federation to distribute these life-saving resources here in the Greater Philadelphia region and in Israel. Along with the heroism of the doctors and nurses who fight every day to save lives, I am more inspired by humanity than ever before.
There is much to be done to overcome this pandemic. We are reminded that Passover begins with the story of suffering and ends with the story of redemption thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of so many. Now it is time to do our part to make the year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic the same story.
To all in our Jewish communities I wish you a chag sameach. Let us all end our seders together singing from the song our family and many of yours consider a favorite, chad gadyah: Let God come and stop the angel of death. Speedily and Soon. Amen.
Susanna Lachs Adler is the board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Applications to the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to small businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19, opened April 3.
The program is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which has allocated $350 billion in federal funding as an incentive for organizations to keep workers employed amid the economic fallout of the pandemic.
The federal Small Business Administration will forgive loans if businesses and nonprofits keep all employees on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for qualifying expenses including payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
Most Jewish nonprofit organizations with 500 or fewer employees, including federations, JCCs, Hillels and synagogues, are eligible for these funds.
“The Paycheck Protection Program will be an incredibly valuable tool for (Jewish) Federation, businesses in our community and the Jewish not-for-profit world,” said Steven Rosenberg, chief operating officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “We are also blessed with having an umbrella organization, JFNA, which has done exceptional work in taking 800 pages of legislation and putting it into very simple-to-understand terms. They have assembled a team of financial and legal experts to help people with their applications. My guess is every Jewish organization in the city will apply.”
JFNA held a Zoom webinar on April 2 to provide updated information for organizations planning to apply for the loans.
“Stay calm. Ignore rumors,” advised Dennis Bernard, president of Bernard Financials and a Jewish community leader in Detroit. He explained that viewers would have to access the online portal that banks will be using to process the applications.
“With every single day, we realize how much we’re moving into uncharted waters,” said Mark Wilf, chair of JFNA’s board of trustees. “As someone who has run a business myself, I can tell you this will not all go smoothly, but we will get this help into the hands of organizations that need it.”
JFNA Executive Vice President Mark Gurvis told nonprofit leaders and small business owners to expect some challenges.
“There’s going to be a lot of turmoil in the lending community. The bankers are all trying to figure out how to get things moving,” he said.
Gurvis explained that the loans are for amounts up to $10 million, with a 0.5% interest rate. Payments can be deferred for up to six months and interest accrues until repayment. Applicants must calculate their average monthly payroll costs over 12 months and multiply it by 2.5. These costs can include parsonage, but not federal payroll taxes.
Eric D. Fingerhut, JFNA’s president and CEO, said the funds will be available to faith-based organizations like synagogues and churches, even if they don’t have 501(3)c paperwork for registered nonprofits.
Fingerhut also told viewers they could expect more funds to be made available in the future.
“The Secretary of Treasury is quoted as saying he supported an expansion of the pool. I spoke to the White House about it. It is absolutely on people’s radar,” he said.
The SBA claims applicants can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating.
However, David Gold of Jewish Federation’s board of directors, has observed that many of these financial institutions are scrambling to contend both with the speed at which the new regulations are being released and the high numbers of applications to process.
“The challenges are, frankly, making sure your banking institution is ready to accept the applications as soon as possible,” Gold said.“What I’m finding today is a lot of the banks just weren’t prepared for this. The SBA and the government came out with this program very quickly, and they just didn’t have enough time.”
Gold said the SBA and federal government have taken steps to streamline the application process by simplifying the application to a two-page document and providing more guidelines to banks.
Even in the face of logistical issues, Gold believes the funds will act as a lifeline for organizations that have been hit hard by the pandemic and face an uncertain eight weeks ahead. He hopes the loans will allow qualifying organizations to avoid major layoffs.
“Most of the loans will be forgiven so long as organizations use the funds as they are intended — to keep staff on payroll,” he said.“It’s going to go a long way to help organizations that have been severely hurt by this crisis.”
Cantor Scott Borsky’s car is so full of pet supplies he can barely see out the back.
“I’m like a mobile pet store,” he said.
Borsky runs Cantor Scott’s Animal Rescue Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The nonprofit normally provides food and rescue for stray and feral cats, with Borsky handling feedings and Corine Weinstein in charge of rehabilitation.
However, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he has also started delivering dog and cat food to pet owners in need. Many of them are elderly and staying inside due to health concerns, and many have recently lost their jobs.
Borsky has delivered pet supplies to food pantries since before the pandemic began.
“We started a project where I went around to as many food pantries in the area and asked if they had pet food — they always said no,” he said. “The great majority of folks who come in to the pantries for themselves and their families also have pets. If they can’t afford food for themselves, do you think they can feed their pets?”
He has witnessed increased demand for foster cats due to social distancing.
“There has been a rise in people contacting me to say, ‘I’m home and have nothing to do, do you have any kittens that need to be bottle fed?’ And that has been a blessing,” he said.
Lori Sherman, a volunteer for Project MEOW in West Philadelphia, has also seen a rise in demand for foster cats.
“We’re usually scrambling to find fosters for friendly cats and now the reverse is true — we’re scrambling to find cats for people interested in fostering,” she said.
Project MEOW usually focuses on trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats, as well as rehabilitating friendly ones so they can be kept as pets. They have also been providing food to low income and elderly pet owners during the pandemic.
Sherman is not concerned about the availability of fosters, but she said the coronavirus has caused other issues, including a reduction in spay and neuter surgeries that could lead to an explosion of kittens later in the year.
She has also had to stop all volunteer activities that require in-person interactions due to her work as a midwife.
“I’m a health care provider and I’m on the front lines, and I would never want to jeopardize the well-being of a person,” she said. “If someone needs in-person assistance for an animal, I have to pass that along to someone else.”
The threat of spreading the virus through social interaction is also causing problems for the pet foster nonprofit PACT for Animals. The organization usually provides temporary foster homes for the pets of members of the armed forces and hospitalized patients, but this has become impossible.
“The problem is in the last month is we’ve had increasing numbers of people who had the virus who need someone to take care of their pets,” said People Animals Companions Together founder and President Melvin “Buzz” Miller.“We don’t know how, right now, to solve this problem. We can’t let our volunteers take the chance.”
Miller also said that while social isolation is motivating more people to foster and adopt shelter animals, animal welfare organizations are hurting because they’re not getting the financial contributions they need to pay for food and veterinary care.
PACT has already postponed a fundraising campaign that was originally scheduled for Memorial Day to July 4.
“You can’t do a dog walk if you can’t have people together,” he said.
PACT is planning to reunite animals currently in their custody with their owners following a quarantine period of two weeks.
Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society is still providing urgent rescue and veterinary services.
“We have been committed from the very start of this crisis to continuing to rescue animals who need us and serving pet owners in the community,” said PAWS Executive Director Melissa Levy.
She said staff have limited the number of people in the building by having pet owners wait outside while animals receive treatment and conducting all foster and adoption meetings by appointment only.
Volunteers are scheduled one or two at a time for each physical area in the building so they can observe social distancing guidelines.
Levy said it would be possible for shelters to become overwhelmed if the pandemic worsens and people are forced to leave their pets behind when they go to the hospital.
“With this crisis, there’s just no telling how it might be even worse when people become sick or have to care for loved ones or have financial hardship,” she said. “We are doing everything possible to be prepared for this.”
The dramatic increase in fosters and adoptions has helped.
“The response from the community has been tremendous. We’re able to place animals into foster care almost as fast as we’re rescuing them, which allows us to keep the building relatively empty in case there is an influx of animals that need us in coming months,” she said.
My roommate is trying to fix the dripping faucet. This is not a coronavirus problem: the tap in the kitchen has been weepy for years, and we’ve all mastered the decisive handle-twist—jam down, then pull quickly to the right—required to stop the drip.
But now that we’re sheltering at home, with an obsessive hand-washing routine and plenty of time to spare, Megan’s got a YouTube instructional video, an Allen key and a Rosie-the-Riveter look of determination on her face.
It’s a DIY kind of time, when social distancing calls us to stay twice an arm’s length from everyone but our co-habitants. That includes the UPS carrier, the cashier at Trader Joe’s and anyone we might, under ordinary circumstances, call to rewire the blitzed dining room sconce, trouble-shoot a malfunctioning modem or plumb the kitchen sink.
For us, this isn’t entirely a new normal. We—my partner and I, and our two longtime housemates—are the kind of Mt. Airy bunch my college-aged daughter wryly calls “crunchy,” by which she means that we shop at the co-op, still have a landline and brew our own kombucha in the basement.
As a child, reading the “Little House on the Prairie” books, it was easy to romanticize pioneer life. I wanted to dip my own candles and sew my own clothes, like Laura and her sisters. Tapping the trees, then making maple candy from the syrup, sounded like so much sticky delight. I envied the Ingalls family’s resourcefulness and grit through punishing winter storms and bouts of scarlet fever.
As an adult, I’ve found a cozy spot somewhere between the 1870s and this surreal century. I don’t cobble my own shoes, but I can sew a pair of pajamas, bake challah from scratch, grow basil in the side yard and—each redolent, profligate August—whirr it into enough pesto to last all winter.
I don’t aspire to live off the grid. I like the grid. I rely on it. But as our zone of activity shrinks in response to state and local stay-in-place orders, and as non-essential businesses shutter around us, we’re forced to rethink so many of the tasks we used to casually out-source.
Pharmacy emptied of hand sanitizer? No problem; we’ll mix our own with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera left from last summer’s sunburn! Physical therapist no longer taking appointments? Work that shoulder in the living room with elastic bands and hand weights!
Here’s the irony. Just as we’re separating for the sake of health—literally walking a wide berth around strangers on the sidewalk—we’re understanding the fathomless depth of our interdependence.
Each day, each choice, reminds me: My friend, who has asthma, considers getting tested for coronavirus after possible exposure to someone who may have the illness. On one hand, she’d like to know if she’s infected, so she can take extra steps to protect her in-laws. At the same time, she knows COVID-19 tests, and the protective gear that health workers need to administer them, are woefully scarce.
Or how about this one: We want to bolster struggling, family-owned restaurants, but we feel wary of take-out that might carry coronavirus—studies show it can live on plastic for up to three days—into our home. Or this: the spray cleaner that promises to kill the virus contains chemicals we’d normally shun as toxic for us and the environment. A grocery delivery service might keep someone employed—but is that really a good thing right now, for their health and for our own?
We’re learning how intimately tied we are, on the most micro scale—my hug or handshake could make you sick—and the global stage. One reason face masks are in such short supply is that China, where most health-care safety products are made, quit producing them for two months while workers were under quarantine. If the coronavirus has a sense of humor, it must be laughing its spiky, microbial head in irony.
With governors’ orders to sideline all “non-essential” workers, we’re learning, painfully, whose labor really counts. The guy who pumps your gas. The woman who, now gloved in blue latex, delivers your mail. The health care workers—applaud their altruism and pray for their well-being—who swab the throats of feverish strangers. The people who, night after tedious night, re-stock store shelves emptied of toilet paper.
The most crucial workers are often the most invisible, the least rewarded, the hardest slammed in any crisis. This tiny, mighty germ is showing us that. It’s showing us the true fabric of our safety net, the nodes of privilege and the gaping holes of racism and poverty. It is shouting —could the message possibly be any louder?—that sufficient food, clean water, affordable housing and accessible health care should be rights guaranteed to every human being.
We are not a do-it-yourself species. Even on the mid-19th-century prairie, survival depended on barter, on neighbors, on sharing mistakes, expertise and griefs. We are in debt to one another, more than we can say.
There’s a teaching, in Judaism, that human beings are always connected—bound by circumstance and need, by blood and choice, tethered to ancestors, teachers and people not yet born—and when we light candles at the start of any ritual, their glow illuminates those links.
That’s what coronavirus is showing us, in a devastating flash of light. This time, let’s not look away.
Anndee Hochman is the author of “Anatomies: A Novella and Stories” and an essay collection, “Everyday Acts & Small Subversions.” She lives in Mt. Airy.