17 July 2020
Many of my recent conversations with community members and leaders have focused on concerns about what this coming fall is going to look like. When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, we shifted into emergency-mode, prepared to do what was necessary to survive and help others with immediate needs. The increasing reality for all of us is that emergency-preparedness was only the beginning.
Our community, however, is adjusting – programmatically and emotionally – for a Jewish calendar year that will look very different from the world we left behind in mid-March. Instead of planning for a post-pandemic return to normal Jewish communal life; we are grappling with the prospect of a very different future.
Hillel professionals are wondering how to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of college students, on and off campus, who are facing new and different challenges, while also observing social distancing.
Teachers are worried about how they can successfully educate children while protecting their own health and that of their students.
Clergy and synagogue leadership are developing alternatives to traditional High Holiday services and how to meet the ritual and social needs of the full range of congregants.
Early childhood educators are thinking about how to provide a warm and welcoming environment for young children with the innumerable restrictions that must be in place to increase health and safety.
Parents are struggling to make plans to return to work without knowing when and for how long their children will be in school.
Still others, within these groups and beyond them, are wondering if they will be able to afford to continue participating in Jewish life, and what doing so might look like.
While this list is daunting and Federation and our partners may not have answers to all of these questions, we are leveraging the power of our community to think through and address these questions. No individual or organization is alone in asking or answering these big questions.
Federation is proud to regularly convene organizations, synagogues, and leaders from across the community to brainstorm and discuss how to help one another, support each other, and collectively plan for the coming months and years as we together tackle the big issues we face.
I was heartened to see this community approach in action last week on one such call Federation convened for rabbis from our region. The group included two dozen leaders from large congregations and small ones, and from across the denominations. The participants shared ideas on how to observe the holidays in the midst of a pandemic while seeking to strengthen the meaning of the holidays in our lives. They openly and collaboratively explored new ways to provide meaningful Jewish experiences this season, including different uses of outdoor space and leveraging people’s current willingness to try new things. The discussion of new approaches was just one example of the value inherent in coming together as a community.
It is true that we are facing many unknowns. And it is true that the unknown is creating discomfort for individuals and organizations in our community. A colleague recently shared with me a meme that uses dark humor to portray the emotional ups and downs of the “Corona-coaster” many of us feel we are riding. But it is also true that our community is equipped with the resiliency we need to face those unknowns with confidence.
Together, we can take comfort in the relationships and infrastructure of our community, and from the mutual support that will help us move forward into the coming year.