Closures, cancellations and working from home are transforming the landscape of the Hamilton Jewish community as Jewish organizations scramble to adapt to new realities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a meeting of Jewish communal professionals on March 14 at JHamilton, a spirit of unity, resolve and collective solidarity was palpable as people expressed support for each other and shared strategies of how to best protect their most vulnerable members. What was profoundly evident was that the pandemic has ushered in a new era of intra-organizational collaboration, none more so than frontline agencies, Shalom Village and Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS). Organizations have canceled their spring fundraising events and Federation has cancelled the community Yom HaShoah commemoration and Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.
Synagogues cancelled their in-person services and programs in early March, and are conducting services and classes remotely, while Jewish schools have cancelled classes until further notice.
Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS) cancelled all of its seniors programming in early March and has moved some of its programs online. The Kosher Food Bank and its financial relief programs are sill operational, albeit it with safety precautions. Shalom Village has closed its doors to all with the exception of relatives of those receiving end-of-life care.
A common concern for all the community’s Jewish organizations is the financial implications of the crisis.
“It’s important for people to understand that organizations still need your support,” said Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg. “Galas and events may be cancelled or postponed, but if you’ve bought a ticket for an event, or taken out a sponsorship, at the end of the day, it was meant to help the organization. The priority should still be to support these organizations.”
Hamilton Jewish Federation staff have been working remotely and Federation’s primary focus has been on identifying and responding to needs in the community. To that end, Federation staff are mobilizing to reach out to every individual in their database over the next few weeks. Federation has also created the Hamilton Jewish Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group, as a central address in the Jewish community where people can ask for and receive help. The page is moderated by representatives from each of the Jewish institutions in Hamilton and will provide all the information relevant to the Jewish community throughout the term of the pandemic.
“Our community is doing amazing things during this time,” wrote HJFS’s Alexis Wenzowski in one of her daily communications. “Let us keep up this good work, and continue to show solidarity with one another. We are more connected than we think.”
How you can help
This crisis is impacting us all. But those who will suffer the most — and face the greatest risks — are the most vulnerable among us. They need our support as soon as possible. Join the Hamilton Jewish Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group to connect with other members of our community. If you or someone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jewish Family Services at email@example.com.
Things to keep in mind
The coronavirus pandemic has created massive uncertainty in our country and our world. In the coming days, weeks, and possibly months, work and life as we know it will change fundamentally. And while there is no real way to know exactly what will happen, how long it will last, and what the long-term impact of all of this will be, one thing is for certain … things are uncertain and probably will be for a while.
Take good care of yourself. It’s easy to let your self-care and stress management practices go by the wayside when things are nutty and you have people counting on you. However, it’s important right now to double down on taking care of yourself first, so you are able to be there for others. Stay calm, wash your hands vigorously, and heed warnings from government agencies.
Communicate constantly. Many people feel scared and isolated in the midst of this. Check in with people personally. Ask how they are doing and really listen and see how things are going with their families. Remember, no matter what the problem is, community is the answer.
Difficult Days, an editorial by Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg