Due to the efforts of nearly a dozen volunteers from the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) program in downtown Manhattan, close to 230 eligible New Yorkers were able to get their COVID-19 vaccine appointments scheduled at local points of distribution.

Since the Federal Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine on December 11, the rollout process has been marred with questions on how the average citizen would be able to register for their appointment to get the shot. Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s January 11 announcement that seniors, educators and other essential personnel would be eligible to register for appointments despite the limited available doses, appointments through the city’s and state’s web-portals became a hard-to-find commodity. The online system created even more complications for seniors, many of whom were intimidated by or lack the technical skills to navigate the platforms.

Realizing the needs of those in their local community and how they as students and OU-JLIC alumni could help, the group, headed by OU-JLIC Downtown co-director Rabbi Joe Wolfson began to put out feelers within their local community to assist those in need of assistance in scheduling their shot. Shuls, community groups and the district office of New York State Senator Simcha Felder have and continue to refer those in need of assistance to the group. Through their Google form the group has already been able to help 227 neighbors of varying faiths and ethnicities that include the elderly, clients of homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence, and others.

“We can do more,” said Wolfson. “It’s been our privilege since the start of the pandemic to connect young Jewish people who are ready to help with those who are in need. This is just the next stage of a project that began a year ago and I’m immensely proud of all the amazing things our students, alumni and young professionals have achieved.”

“I was so appreciative that Rabbi Wolfson and his team of students and alumni were able to get me an appointment so quickly,” said Jeff Vogel, a 67-year-old teacher for New York City’s Department of Education who despite being eligible for the vaccine on January 11, was unable to find an appointment for over a month. “It is an incredible project, and their impact is enormous. They helped me navigate the system.”

Due to the group’s efforts, the Lower East Side resident got his first shot at his local Rite Aid pharmacy on February 12 and received his second dose days ago. Vogel learned about the program through an email about it from Rabbi Zvi Romm to congregants of the Bialystoker Synagogue in Manhattan.

The group is ready to help even more people. Those in need of assistance can register at: http://bit.ly/let-us-get-you-a-vaccine-appointment.

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Orthodox Union
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs. For more information, visit https://www.ou.org/.
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