BY DEBORAH MOON
The COVID-19 pandemic is altering our reality on an almost hourly basis. Closures and bans will get more extensive in coming days as our world gears up to battle this new virus.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on March 13 ordered schools across the state to close for the month to slow the spread of COVID-19. March 16 she banned all gatherings of more than 25 people and ordered restaurants and bars to close to all but carryout as of March 17. Sports leagues have suspended their seasons, and Disneyland and Disney World are closed. Colleges are closing campuses The world is moving to an online, virtual existence.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Oregon Jewish Community Foundation, and generous donations from Jordan Schnitzer and Arlene Schnitzer, Diane and Jay Zidell and other generous donors have contributed to an initial pool of funds totaling $500,000 to help meet emergency needs.
The funds from JFGP, OJCF and community donations make up The COVID-19 Emergency Fund will provide urgently needed assistance to vulnerable people throughout Greater Portland and Southwest Washington with a focus on older adults, isolated community members, and those impacted financially due to office closures and work stoppages. Specifically, the fund will help support:
• Emergency financial assistance and mental health support for Jewish community members
• Support for Jewish organizations impacted by reduced program and service fees.
The Federation will convene a (Zoom) discussion with agencies and synagogues this morning (March 18) to discuss a communal response to COVID-19.
“This is a test for our system,” said JFGP President and CEO Marc Blattner. “I hope we pull together and figure it out as a community.”
“We don’t know what the issues will be, but it is important that we be there for people.”
Following the March 18 meeting, task forces will be created to address various topics, with members who have expertise in each area working together to develop plans to meet individual and communal needs.
Religious communities are not immune to the health, social and economic shockwaves from this global pandemic. Like other religions, especially those with major spring holidays, the Jewish community will have to adapt. Purim celebrations went on, but many people reportedly stayed home.
Passover, which begins the evening of April 8, 2020, is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. The first seder is often a family seder, with community seders often planned on the second night of Passover. Community Passover seders are being canceled. Perhaps virtual seders will spring into existence to fill the gap. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has canceled the intergroup seder that had been planned to precede Pesach on April 6. In fact, the Federation has canceled all events at least through the end of Passover. The Jewish Review will feature Passover updates in our April 1 issue.
The need for a minyan (10 Jewish adults – men in traditional congregations) means Shabbat services are by definition communal. In an email from Orthodox Congregation Kesser Israel, Rabbi Kenneth Brodkin wrote, "Just as we have sacrificed to establish and maintain our regular Minyanim every day until now, so too we sacrifice today by foregoing community gatherings for the well-being of our community and of our greater society."
Congregations that offer online streaming of services expect demand to expand. Beth Israel offers live streaming at bethisrael-pdx.org/worship/watch-services-live/. Neveh Shalom streams Shabbat services at nevehshalom.org/virtual-services/. Other congregations offer Zoom services.
OneTable, which coordinates Shabbat dinners for young adults, is considering offering cook-along videos, weekly playlists, Facebook Live ritual, starting a Shabbat Hang text thread, or #FaceTimeFriday, all of which would be open to everyone. Visit onetable.org for updated information.
Spiritual life is not the only issue; the economic fallout is expected to be significant. Agencies and congregations are considering ways to help. The Jewish Free Loan (see story page 3) encourages individuals or families impacted by the crisis to apply for an interest-free loan of up to $4,000.
At the March 11 meeting of Jewish agency and synagogue executives, attendees discussed the potential snowball effect of closed preschools, day schools and Hebrew schools. Closures mean teachers are out of work and parents will need alternate child care; perhaps those out of work teachers could take on child care roles. Portland’s three day schools and several Hebrew schools have moved to online or virtual learning.
Cedar Sinai Park has instituted steps to reduce exposure (see story). PJ Library has canceled Yad b’ Yad, a weekly gathering that normally brings seniors and preschoolers together each week (see related story). And Jewish Family and Child Service is exploring ways to provide emergency financial assistance and mental health support.
“This could be a galvanizing opportunity for the community to do volunteer activities,” suggests Blattner.
Volunteers could call seniors regularly to check on them, which would provide social connections and help create a sense of community. Volunteering to deliver meals and groceries is another option.
Kindness and adaptability are important traits that we will need as things continue to evolve in the coming weeks.