Over the last couple of days, we have heard more people than ever before express a longing for Shabbat. At Federation our staff and leadership have been working tirelessly - shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues at the Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Family Services, and synagogues and agencies across the region - to address anticipated urgent needs across our community.
And yet, this is surely one of the strangest sabbaths any of us has experienced. Synagogues are all closed. The ability to engage with our community - one of the most meaningful aspects of our observance - is not possible.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks opens his d'var Torah this week by quoting the Alter Rebbe's famous aphorism that one must live with the times, which is interpreted to mean that one can always draw lessons between the weekly parsha (Torah portion) and our current reality.
Sachs goes on to note the seemingly strange contrast between the name of this week's parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, and our current reality. The parsha begins with the assemblage of the Israelites and goes on to describe the building of the sanctuary - the Mishkan, the first house of G-d - a place in which holiness is manifest in our physical world. What can we learn from a parsha that discusses assemblage and a house of worship when our synagogues are shuttered and we can't pray together?
The answer Rabbi Sacks offers is found in the parsha's command to observe Shabbat, which precedes the details about the building of the sanctuary, and which comes to teach that Shabbat takes precedence. Shabbat represents holiness in time, which is even more important than holiness in space.
Throughout some 2,000 years, the Jewish people were dispersed across the globe and without a central holy temple to manifest G-d's presence in space. What kept us together, Sacks argues, was Shabbat, which connected all Jews and forged one people, saying the same prayers at the same time - as a community in time.
This week, as we are physically separated for our Sabbath observance and virtually every other facet of our lives, we have the opportunity to join together in new ways, spiritually and in support of each other. Below are a few of the ways that we have been working over the course of this week to support our Jewish community:
- The leadership and staff of Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation have been working together all week to develop a joint plan of action that will provide our Jewish community additional resources to address emergency needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Working in collaboration with Jewish Family Services, the initial focus will be on providing access to food, counseling and financial resources to help cover basic needs, particularly to seniors and other vulnerable people who may already be socially isolated, in fragile health or in financial crisis. Details will follow next week.
- Federation's program staff are collecting and activating national best practices for assessing new social service needs in the wake of COVID-19.
- The Jewish Community Relations Council is supporting federal legislation to offset the impact of COVID-19 on seniors and low-income families. In addition, we encourage you to immediately contact your local U.S. Senator and Senators McConnell and Schumer to ensure that nonprofit social service agencies are eligible to benefit from the new federal economic stimulus package.
- The Association of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Hartford, part of our Federation, has implemented new health and safety protocols to address COVID-19. Many thanks to Rabbi Tuvia Brander for vetting the protocols on behalf of the Greater Hartford Rabbinic Association.
- Federation has offered Zoom online conferencing software to all of our local synagogues and agencies free of charge to help them continue operations.
- Children's Reading Partners is exploring virtual volunteering options and the possibility of partnering with home-based reading programs so that we can continue to support at-risk students while schools are closed.
- We have begun transitioning upcoming Federation events to a virtual format. Jewish Leadership Academy's Impact+Influence, a selective program for rising leaders, will be holding a Zoom session on March 30 with Zachary Schaffer, a noted Israel advocate and Executive Director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents.
- We're shifting the focus of JLink, our monthly e-newsletter, to feature virtual events from across our Jewish community. Click here to subscribe to JLink.
In the midst of these efforts, we are continuing to make progress on meeting our community's increasing security needs. We have convened several conversations - most recently, this Wednesday - with the
Secure Community Network
about growing our capacity to address the need for increased institutional site security and training, stronger relationships with
, an emergency communication system, and acquisition of additional funding.
We look forward to working together with you in the coming weeks to address our common challenges and emerge with even greater unity and strength.
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford