I never could have imagined the surreal climate we’re in today.
When reports of the deadly, novel coronavirus began, it seemed so remote and that it couldn’t possibly affect us. Slowly, as it started to move westward, the mood in Israel shifted.
It took a while for that tension to make it here to Omaha, Nebraska, though. In the middle of the cornfields and quiet, somehow we believed that this global pandemic would pass us by.
That illusion was shattered when we learned of the first person infected locally. Like the rest of the world, we had to adjust to a new normal. Social distancing, fear, and uncertainty ruled the day.
As a Jewish Agency for Israel shlicha (emissary), Omaha has been my home for the past year and a half. Here, I work to strengthen the Jewish community’s connection to their heritage and Israel.
What drives the shlichut program – and makes it significant — is its people. Thousands of young adults stationed all over the world, who create a connection to their local communities and show them what it means to be Israeli. We, quite simply, bring Israel to their doorsteps.
But in an era of isolation — where we can’t meet anyone face-to-face — how do we remain relevant?
One of our biggest fears as shlichim is that we will work hard to create a program for the community and then no one will show up. Suddenly, we may be looking at a future where, in the short-term at least, there’s no events, classes or programs. Everyone stays home.
As such, we’ve worked hard to find creative and innovative ways to stay up-to-date and bring Israel to people’s homes digitally.
Our first idea? To keep kids home with their parents busy. As a result, we created a booklet that provided parents and kids with a variety of activities that are fun for the whole family and that will, most importantly, prompt them to keep Israel close to their hearts.
We’ve also brought Israeli culture to living rooms around the world. From a special Idan Raichel concert live-streamed from his home to belly dancing, The Jewish Agency understands the ability of entertainment as a vehicle to lift one’s spirits in times of crisis.
Also, with Passover around the corner, we’ve hosted a couple of workshops teaching the message of this important holiday.
But this is also a serious time, which is why many of us are staying put and also offering virtual resilience and mental health training to those in our community who need to feel comforted.
After all, listening and engaging with one’s community is what shlichut is all about. Through The Shlichut Institute, our emissaries have learned how to leverage modern technology to ensure that the connection to our communities is not interrupted for even a second while this coronavirus continues to rock our world in unexpected ways.
From cooking classes to informative webinars, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and Facebook Live have been our conduit to Jews around the world. While we’re grateful that this technology exists, it is the hundreds of shlichim worldwide who are able to use these platforms to provide engaging and meaningful content.
And we’re not done. The shlichim community is continuing to generate ideas that will engage our respective communities. In fact, the virtual world can provide opportunities to bridge the gap between Israel and world Jewry even more, because it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, these days we are all online and in the same place.
While the unknown is unnerving and even the experts don’t know how long this pandemic will last, this is also an opportunity to change up our routine and understand that we’re all capable of adjusting to change both big and small.