The heart and soul of Jewish life beat through community and connection. We go to synagogue with others, have Shabbat meals with others, go to Torah classes and study with others, visit the sick, dance at weddings, attend funerals, bake matzahs, and so much more together. So much of this stopped during the recent COVID-19 outbreak. So what should we be doing now to continue our life? Here are some things we must do during this time of social distancing:
- Check on others– The Talmud (Nedarim 40a) shares the following story:” “A student of Rabbi Akiva was sick, and none of his colleagues went to visit him, but Rabbi Akiva went then to visit him. As a result of [Rabbi Akiva] cleaning his house up, and taking care of the student, he (the student) became healthy and lived. It was at that point that Rabbi Akiva went on and proclaimed: “Whoever does not visit the sick, it is as if he actively murdered someone.” The word Bikkur in Hebrew means to visit, it also means to check. See if there is anything you can do to help an elderly neighbor, lonely friend, or struggling relative. It may not require you to do more than going online and helping them with getting things done on the internet. You may be able to help just by listening or sharing sound advice. Most likely, your help will be critical in just showing that you are and that you are there for them.
- Coordinate Chessed (acts of kindness) Responses-for thousands of years, Jewish communities have been lifelines of kindness and activism. What is your synagogue doing these days? Are they working on making sure that anyone who needs gets food delivery? Are they creating a buddy system, knowing that every person is contacted regularly and checked on? Did you create a free loan society so that individuals have who turn to in times of crisis? Do you have a delivery directory so that everyone knows what services are available to them?
- Torah study– the study of the Torah has always been the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Torah study is the only thing standing between Jewish communities with long term success and others that disappear. While we must make sure to live up to the strictest standards of social distancing, we must also keep the study of the Torah alive and well. Torah study can be spearheaded by rabbis, but definitely not limited to that. Study groups on the phone, YouTube videos, Zoom conferences, WhatApp groups, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and so many other tools can all be utilized for the study of Torah.
- Online community building for children– having taught my students from school now for already a week, I see the power of the online community. Whether it is Hebrew school or day school, the children love seeing their school friends as a unit. If my class begins at 1 PM, already at 12:50, there are children who come on just so they can chat with each other. If your synagogue has youth groups or anything like that, make sure kids get to see their “shul friends” online—as a group.
- Online community building for teens-The same applies to teens. Make sure your teens have a place they can connect to one another. You may want to use a social online game like Kahoot or other educational materials that let them both connect and game with one another. This can turn into both a positive social phenomenon, as well as an educational opportunity.
- Online community building for adults-while many synagogues offer full streaming services online, orthodox communities do not activate electricity on Shabbat and therefore do not. This does not mean you should not engage in community life together. You may want to stream shiurim, Tehillim, or to check up on one another in a group setting. Community building should continue.
- Financial wellbeing- when it comes to the financial consequences of COVID-19, we have not seen the tip of the iceberg. Many have already lost their jobs, many will. Now is the time for communities to stand alongside one another, make sure they have a well-structured charity network, make sure they have a strong job counseling network, and make sure people know they are not alone.
We are faced with the most difficult challenge we have seen in two generations. These are tough times, testing our resilience and care for others. Rabbi Noah Weinberg always used to say: “the only way you can climb from the rank of a simple soldier to a general in a very short time is during a time of war.” That time has come. Let’s all rise to the occasion, care for others, engage with other another, and emerge from this crisis stronger and more united.