(April 6, 2020 / JNS) A crisis engulfed our community over the past month. COVID-19 strains resources, threatens lives and well-being, and strikes at the fabric of the Jewish community. Synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and schools closed their doors; the spaces that are our communal homes are now shuttered. Services provided to our community and the communities around us are now curtailed. For a people whose laws and customs promote eating together, praying together, and celebrating and mourning together, this continued isolation weighs heavily upon our mental, spiritual and communal welfare.
The Jewish community is answering the call and working together to meet these challenges and fill the void created by the enforced isolation. We are undergoing a fundamental change in the way we operate, we gather, we practice and we engage in Jewish life both individually and collectively. Every day brings new responses to these challenges and innovative ideas as our organizations and institutions serve our community and those who are in need.
As this crisis stretches into another month, our need for community and our communal needs are greater than ever. The current economic downturn leaves many organizations and institutions vulnerable, as our leaders and countless volunteers work tirelessly to provide support. Agencies are operating under increased stress and are called upon to do more with less, while many of their employees face the prospect of loss of employment.
On Wednesday night, we will begin the central story of the Haggadah with the words, Ha lachma anya, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt.” Yet even as we remind ourselves that we are afflicted, the next line states, “All who are hungry, let them join us and eat. All who are in need, let them celebrate the holiday with us.” By sharing what we have, by responding to all who need our help, we are recognizing our obligation to do acts of lovingkindness that will bring relief from the current crisis.
The members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations may differ when it comes to political leanings or religious affiliations, but we approach this challenging time more united by common purpose. We all gain through this unity. We stand together in the face of this plague, as Jews have done for millennia. The theme of our leadership mission to Israel this year was Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh, “All of Israel are responsible one to another,” and this message has never been more relevant.
Now, more than ever before, our organizations and their essential programs need help, support and commitment. We are grateful to those who responded so generously and hope that many more will follow their example.
It is through all of our common efforts—the funders who provide, the organizations and institutions that labor, and the people who form our communities—that we can have hope for the future. This year, we may be oppressed and many suffer, but through acts of lovingkindness, through giving and working together to repair a world ripped apart by disaster, next year we hope to be free.
Arthur Stark is the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. William C. Daroff is chief executive officer. Malcolm Hoenlein is vice chairman.
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