Images released from around the world all tell the same story: A vacant Times Square. A desolate Tel Aviv beachfront. Washington’s National Mall, an eerie ghost town. Sites usually rife with springtime tourists stand abandoned.
All these images tell the story of self-isolation. People cordoned off in their homes as we hope and pray that this virus-like the smiting of the firstborn when we were in Egypt – doesn’t fall at our doorstep.
But just because we’re isolated, doesn’t mean we’re alone. For the first time in Israel-Diaspora history, we are all experiencing the same crisis simultaneously. As such, there has never been a clearer need for solidarity among our people. If this virus taught us anything, it’s that this is a time when assistance among global Jewry is a two-way street.
At The Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization that has seen the Jewish people through triumphs and struggles for 90 years, we are the first to understand that this is no time to take a break.
Our efforts reach virtually every Jew around the world and are implemented in four different realms.
The first is those for whom we have always felt a responsibility. Over 20,000 Olim in absorption centers, residents of our senior housing facilities – including many Holocaust survivors – and at-risk families who are vulnerable even in the best of times – need our assistance more than ever. During this crisis, we continue to look after them, because we don’t have the luxury to hit the pause button. We take care of whatever they need, including food, shelter, and financial support. We’ve provided computers so their children can join their peers in distance learning during the shutdown and mobilized dozens of volunteers to provide extra support. The challenges facing these groups continue, and so does our work.
As the collective global platform of the Jewish people, working in over 60 countries around the world, to that end, our next realm of services impacts the broader Jewish communities.
While most Jewish organizations have significantly cut back their operations and sent many staff members home, over 300 shlichim have remained in place, stationed throughout the world and are working harder than ever.
They are the boots on the ground, helping mobilize networks of volunteers, assisting the elderly and working hand in hand with the local communities’ support systems. In situations with especially high risk, such as in Italy and Ethiopia, we are sending emergency assistance to help those communities cope with the very basic needs they’re currently challenged with providing.
And from the first days of this crisis, blessed with a blast of energy and creativity, our shlichim are using digital technology in many shapes and forms to constantly connect with kids, youth, college students and families in their communities. From cooking classes to lessons in Hebrew slang, to training for a Zoom Seder, our shlichim are carrying on the mission of creating and reinventing these connections– always with Israel at heart.
Additionally, on a more macro level, our emergency situation room and global Aliyah call center operates around the clock, and we’re receiving hundreds of calls on a weekly basis, in dozens of languages and ensuring that the needs of the Jewish people are met despite the ongoing crisis.
Of course, we’re also hard at work back home in Israel for the good of its broader society. Clearly, the land of Milk and Honey is not exempt from the hardships caused by the coronavirus. There are 16,000 non-profits in Israel comprising 15% of the workforce and 16% of the GDP.
They are a vital part of the Israeli tapestry, which relies heavily on donations and governmental funding. Since this sector is now on the verge of a financial crisis, The Jewish Agency, in partnership with Ogen – a social lending fund – launched the Emergency Fund for Nonprofits to provide these NGOs much-needed low-interest loans. This initiative doesn’t offer a panacea by simply providing money, but also includes consulting and mentoring services – provided with the help of Israel Venture Network (IVN)– so these organizations learn how to manage their cash flow wisely in the aftermath of this crisis. This initiative essentially gives these NGOs a lifeline at this very vulnerable moment.
All of these efforts are possible due to the solidarity of the Jewish people working together to support one another. The ongoing support of our partners at The Jewish Federations of North America, UIA Keren Hayesod, communities, donors and foundations from around the globe during this crisis has been key to mobilizing our response.
While all these responses are critical, we must operate with an eye toward the day after. When the world emerges from this crisis, we need to be prepared to continue and support the communities in their recovery which we know will take time, as well as harness our creativity and apply some of the innovative methods we’re building now to the new reality that will unfold in the not-so-distant future.
The Jewish people are imbued with a sense of kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – the principle that all Jews are responsible for one another. In the current global pandemic, we must rely on and internalize this value more than ever. As such, every initiative we execute has one primary goal in mind: How does this promote solidarity now and in the years to come?
This is where maintaining connections among us is key. Although we are practicing social distancing, we must find ways to continue to be together during this trying time. From virtual workshops hosted by shlichim worldwide, to live global performances by Israel’s most popular performers, to our first-ever digital Seder and interactive Yom HaShoah, Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hazikaron events on the horizon, we refuse to let this pandemic get in the way of bringing us closer to each other. And it is our hope that we will come out on the other side with solidarity stronger than ever before.
After all, as long as we continue to unite and support one another, we can ensure that even more people have some relief from their burdens and that we emerge from this crisis with greater unity.