by Lisa Wright
Once Jewish Children’s Folkshul and Adult Community (which meets at Springside Chestnut HIll Academy) learned about CoVid-19 becoming a potential threat to our in-person programs we acted swiftly to determine what we can do for our multiple groups of stakeholders with varying demographics. What are the immediate needs and how can we respond thoughtfully from our principles as our guide?
As a Secular Humanist Jewish community, we transmit the values of social justice and human responsibility. Our ongoing response to this crisis must reflect Jewish Secular Humanism in values and in practice. This requires staying focused on research and sharing credible and up to date information and resources that educate and empower our members to self-care and the collective good. It is a moral imperative to care for one another. Together with board members and educators we moved from an in-person, site-based program to a vital on-line, engaging enterprise. We expanded our partnerships and considered all members of our community in decision making.
Several weeks out, now, since late February we discussed potential scenarios – what could we do if we no longer had a physical meeting space? How long would/could this be the case? How do we continue staying connected with each other? What are the vital needs of our members: food, healthcare, transportation, financial, educational, social isolation and emotional support? And how can we best address them?
Together with our board and the educational leadership, we immediately explored digital options that not only deliver information about the virus, curriculum, and parenting resources, we added ways to volunteer from home or delivering food with limited exposure. Our teachers took on the task of learning to teach in an entirely different format – certainly a new challenge for many. We trained them via Zoom, offered them ongoing support, and they are now delivering that instruction. We are able to meet children and families where they are – at home. We are establishing phone call protocols to check-in and connect with our members who live alone and provide comfort and information on resources, and even have a “Meal Train” for folks to send gift cards for food to be delivered.
As an organization, we have been able to facilitate friendly visitors at the windows of our members and FaceTime playdates. One of our youngest students is having a particularly hard time dealing with the isolation. One of our teenage assistants used Facetime and formed a bond with her. He introduced her to all his pets in his house. She was delighted. Whether that bond leads to that assistant becoming an early childhood educator or not we don’t know, but perhaps this relationship could be how this teenager discovers their life’s passion!
We are starting internally to collect positive stories like the one mentioned above. On social media, we invited our community members to share the unrealized strengths and possibilities of collaborations occurring right now. We invite you and your communities to do the same in trying to find the silver lining during this uncertain time.
Folkshul has a wide breadth and relationships with many religious and secular institutions throughout our region. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has convened Zoom meetings with leaders across the five-county area, providing invaluable support to us and positioning us to deliver front line supports to our community. One strength we’re noticing as an organization is that we are deepening our bonds with these institutions. As we share information, support each other and celebrate our values we deepen our commitment to our Jewish heritage. It is times such as these, when Judaism is truly lived in real time, for real people, in real communities, in meaningful ways.
A basic tenet of Judaism is that a Jew does not exist alone and needs community. This principle of the strength of community doesn’t just apply to Jews, but In the wake of the CoVid-19 epidemic it’s become starkly apparent this need expands to all humanity. We all crave and need connections with people. For a community to thrive in times like these requires forward-thinking, innovation, and for the community to band together to find solutions to ensure the safety of their members while maintaining that human connection.
We’ll continue lifting up those solutions here at Folkshul and continue calling for courage, and solidarity, and compassion to those in need.