Dear friends,

Two weeks ago, as the COVID-19 crisis worsened, El Al flew back - at no charge - over 1,000 Israeli tourists from Peru. In the video shown below, the pilot of one of those flights spoke to the passengers on approach to Ben Gurion, telling them that "Together, we will win over the coronavirus and withstand every future challenge." And then - in a request that so encapsulates Jewish peoplehood and faith, and that could only take place on El Al - he asked passengers to join him in singing the famous song whose words are attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: "Kol Ha'Olam Kulo."

Click the image above to view the video.


The lyrics translate thus:

The whole world is a very narrow bridge, a very narrow bridge, and the main thing to remember is not to be afraid, not to be afraid at all..

The word for "narrow" in the Hebrew lyrics is Tzar. According to Jewish mystical tradition, the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is related to the word Mitzarim, the root of which - tzar - means constraints. Our sages teach that Egypt was a place of constraints, not just in the sense that we were slaves but also that the culture there was constrained - limited to the material and the physical. The exodus from Egypt freed us not only from physical bondage but also from constraints and limitations on our spirituality. It forged us as a people, with a purpose, grounded in values and a connection to each other.

Today, on the precipice of Passover, we face challenges that none of us have confronted before - with a profound sense of uncertainty and loss. We are isolated - from our families, our friends, and our workplaces. And yet, we are finding new, impactful ways to support and connect with each other and to focus on what's truly important.

Dozens of Federation volunteers and many others in congregations and neighborhoods across the community are calling seniors and others to check on needs and offer support. Over a half million dollars has been raised in a week's time to provide food for those who can't get out, counseling for those in need, and financial support for individuals and for our vital community organizations. And Zoom has become the medium of choice for most of us as we remotely attend classes, worship, and reinforce bonds of friendship and support.

We may be physically constrained by COVID-19. Yet, grounded in our values and with a renewed sense of purpose, we are indeed crossing the metaphorical narrow bridge of Rebbe Nachman's song. In a column in last week's New York Times, David Brooks cited Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, saying that "we don't get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning... comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give, and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering."  Grounded in values and in a deepening connection to each other, we will emerge, stronger than ever, from this crisis .

Shabbat Shalom.


David Waren
President and CEO
Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford

#JewishTogether: Community Stories of COVID-19 Response

Each Friday, we'll share an update from a local Jewish agency, school or synagogue about how they are making a difference during COVID-19. Submissions are scheduled on a first come, first served basis. To learn more, contact Allie Egan-Sherry at aegansherry@jewishhartford.org.

The Emanuel Synagogue family is working as a team during the COVID-19 crisis - as it always does! Emanuel Trustees are calling congregants weekly to offer support and discover people's needs. Clergy are reaching out to our community members in need of help. Prayer services, religious school, b'nai mitzvah tutoring, pastoral counseling, funerals, and meetings are all being held live online, and virtual attendance is growing weekly! We offer a family service, Shabbat BaBayit, on Fridays at 5:30 p.m. At noon this Sunday, April 5, we're holding the workshop "Bringing Everybody to the Table: How to Foster Connection and Meaning at your Seder, In Person, and Online." We'll also hold a live First Seder via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8. For more information and a Zoom link, visit the Emanuel website.
COVID-19: How Federation Is Helping
  • The Jewish Hartford Rapid Relief and Recovery Fund, established last week by Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation, has already received a total of $548,503 from 166 gifts. The Fund will support several of the relief and recovery initiatives listed below - including financial assistance for individuals and families, kosher grocery and meal delivery, counseling for people in crisis, and wellness checks and reassurance calls to help alleviate the stress of social isolation. Contributions to the Fund are not intended to replace your regular support for our local Jewish organizations. We are tremendously grateful for any support you are able to provide! Click here to donate.
  • The Federation and Foundation staff are working closely with the Fund's Grantmaking Committee to launch the financial assistance program. The Fund will provide individual stipends to those who have been impacted financially as a direct result of COVID-19 - e.g. through quarantine, furlough or layoffs - and operating support for Jewish organizations in transition. We are accepting applications for individual stipends now; click here to complete the form. More information on organizational operating support is coming soon.
  • Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council and the Leadership, Education & Engagement Department are using three methods to identify community needs during COVID-19. First, 27 volunteers have made "wellness check" phone calls to 130 households so far, inquiring about their well-being; we're continuing to add new households to the list. Second, our online Get Help form, launched yesterday, is already generating new requests. And third, community leaders such as rabbis and agency directors are contacting us directly on behalf of specific families in need. The information we receive is routed through a central email address, relief@jewishhartford.org, and then sent to the appropriate triage team or agency, including our partners at Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Community Foundation.
  • Federation and our partners are committed to ensuring that seniors, those who are ill, and those who are food insecure receive nutritious, kosher and kosher for Passover groceries and prepared meals. Our emergency food team of Federation and Foundation staff are working closely with the JFS Anja Rosenberg Kosher Food Pantry to procure, store, and deliver freshly made meals, frozen dinners, and pantry items for community members in need. The Crown Market, Abel Catering, and the Mandell JCC are all contributing food, and we purchased 1,000 frozen kosher for Passover meals from El Al. Yesterday we delivered meals to our first 30 clients. One recipient cried and told us, "You're doing a real mitzvah. This is amazing! I was so worried about what I would do." Deliveries will be made on Tuesdays and Thursdays (except April 9 and 13) and each household will receive one delivery a week. Next Tuesday, we will make our Passover deliveries. If you or someone you know is in need of food, click here to submit a request.
  • Under the dynamic leadership of its Chair, Jessica Zachs, Dignity GrowsTM - an initiative of Federation's Women of Impact - is dropping off free basic hygiene products at the homes of people in need. Greater Hartford is one of only several communities offering this service nationwide, and we are one of a tiny handful of communities offering free delivery of menstrual hygiene products. We're in the process of distributing 500 Dignity Packs, and Jessica has raised an additional $2,730 over the past 3 weeks for future Dignity Packs. If you or someone you know is in need of toiletries or menstrual hygiene products, click here to submit a request.
  • The Jewish Community Relations Council would like to thank everyone who contacted their elected officials to advocate for the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act will provide more than $2 trillion to help struggling individuals and businesses, including Jewish human services agencies, during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We also encourage you to thank your local congresspeople for their support of the CARES Act; you can find their contact information and more here.
Learn, Lead, and Connect Virtually with Federation
  • Federation has launched an online learning resource to connect our entire Jewish community. All rabbis and Jewish educators in Greater Hartford have been invited to post their online offerings on this new, virtual community calendar - and we'll also list Federation programs and a selection of national courses and workshops. Check it out here.
  • The Greater Hartford Jewish Leadership Academy has gone virtual! Impact + Influence: The Frank Stavis Leadership Program for emerging leaders held an online session on Monday evening. Guest facilitator Zachary Schaffer, Executive Director of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, led us in an introspective reflection on how we each relate to, with, and about Israel. JLA's new online Book Club kicked off last night; we're reading Simon Sinek's "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action." (A book purchase isn't necessary, and new members are welcome.) This afternoon, Sinek answered questions from our group and others around the world on Youtube. To learn more, contact Jody Angell at jody@jlahartford.org. And on April 20, JLA will hold an online fundraising workshop with Nanette Fridman, "Stewarding Stakeholders during the COVID-19 Crisis." Details are coming next week.
  • Federation's Women of Impact invite you to "Ready, Set, Charoset!" on Monday, April 6 at 3 p.m. We'll take a virtual culinary journey around the world, just in time for Passover. Hosted by Alisha Cipriano, Stefanie Ochs, and Robin Geller and presented by Federation's Jennifer Schwartzman, this is a kid-friendly, bubbe/mommy session to learn how to make charoset and hear stories from around the globe!  Click here for details and a Zoom link.