March normally brings about the promise of Spring, the excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament, and preparation for Passover. Instead, this year, we find ourselves grappling with the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming weeks and days. To say this moment in time is like no other I've been through would be an understatement.
Most of us have never experienced anything of this magnitude in our lifetime. We may have watched movies or television shows about “mysterious” illnesses that completely upended society, never thinking that something like that could actually happen. And yet here we are.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our government has implemented closures and restrictions in an effort to slow down the spread of the virus. Many businesses and organizations are closed, including schools and universities, bars, restaurants, stores, and rec centers. For businesses and organizations that are still open, some have had to make the difficult decision to cancel and postpone events, suspend the operation of certain departments, or require their employees to work from home.
On March 15, we made the decision to close the Jewish Community Center of Youngstown to the public. The Early Learning Center at the JCC closed at the end of the day March 17. All other programs and classes were immediately canceled.
The professional leadership team of the JCC and the Federation, in consultation with the Federation president, did not make this decision lightly. It is hard to balance this choice with our desire to bring the community together in the greatest moments of need. The unique circumstances of this pandemic, and our specific opportunity to limit any additional spread or further community impact, demand us to do the very opposite – to build more space between our members, programs, and facilities. The strongest service to our members and mission – to the values of Tikkun Olam (because the world needs repairing right now) and Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh (because we are all responsible for one another) – is to close our doors. We share with all institutions a responsibility to safeguard the health and well-being of staff and visitors while helping to slow the spread of the disease in our extended communities.
Limited visitation continues for Heritage Manor Rehabilitation & Retirement Community and Levy Gardens Assisted Living. This proactive decision has been made out of an abundance of caution to protect the health of our residents and tenants and to minimize any unnecessary exposure to COVID-19 and Influenza.
The Federation, in conjunction with Jewish Family Services, established a Hotline. The Jewish Federation & Community Hotline is for anyone who may be experiencing anxiety regarding the coronavirus or just needs someone to talk with. JFS and Federation staff and volunteers from the community are assisting with initial and follow-up phone calls to seniors in our Jewish community. Dedicated professionals are available just to talk, to shop, and to help find needed mental health resources. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, please call our Hotline at 330.406.9533 or email us at email@example.com. After hours calls and emails will be returned the next morning.
Our JCC is now providing childcare for our enrolled students whose parents are healthcare workers, as well as the children of healthcare staff at Heritage Manor. We will be providing childcare for Mercy Health workers who are vital to combating the coronavirus in our region.
Our community will also host a blood drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, March 29 at the JCC to help the Red Cross with a severe blood shortage.
In an effort to stay connected with our community and members, in the days and weeks to come the JCC will be broadcasting fitness classes, art classes, online music lessons, online meditation classes, online family yoga, and more.
Our Jewish Community Relations Council is staying in close contact with state and federal government agencies to ensure that all existing deadlines for grants and other requests are being met. Additionally, JCRC is working closely with our communications team and all agencies to ensure that our messaging is on point and is providing the necessary information to the Jewish and general communities. And, when needed, JCRC will work on securing the services of its social action volunteers to deploy to our agencies, if needed.
Although our day to day operation Federation-wide may look different now, there is still a lot of work to be done. Most of our staff are working remotely, staying in daily contact with JCCs and Federations throughout the U.S. to create long term plans for circumstances that may occur in the coming weeks and months. And many of us still have day to day tasks that need to be done.
I cannot be prouder of our incredible staff on our Federation campus over the past two weeks. Staff have gone above and beyond their normal job responsibilities, and have been in constant contact 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have met either in person or remotely numerous times and will continue to do so until the crisis is OVER!
I have received many wonderful messages from the community about what we collectively have accomplished to date, and I encourage you to share your appreciation with others who work behind the scenes or receive very little fanfare.
As some of you may have read elsewhere, this is a moment in history that will be recorded as perhaps the greatest challenge faced in the 21st century. We will as a country be judged by how we came together as a community to help one another through this challenging time. An inspired excerpt from an article in “Grown and Flown” is a wonderful perspective for us to internalize and share with our family and friends.
“When the Apollo 13 oxygen tank failed and the lunar module was in danger of not returning to earth, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director overheard people saying that this could be the worst disaster NASA had ever experienced - to which he is rumored to have responded, 'With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.'”
Imagine if we could make our response to this crisis our finest hour! Our team will continue to do whatever we can to serve the evolving needs of our community, and we will continue to update you on a regular basis.
Executive Vice-President, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation