Sundown on Friday, September 18 marks Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year of 5781. Millions of Jews around the world would usually congregate for the beginning of the High Holy Days. As Jews we celebrate the New Year in many different ways, but this year, thanks to COVID-19, is like no other.
As I enter this time of the year, I normally look back over the past year and reflect on what I personally am thankful for, what improvements I can make, what our Federation has accomplished, and where we as an organization can improve. But this year I find myself looking back at the past two years. We have experienced many challenges in our Jewish community over the last two years, but because Federation has been around for 85 years we were able to withstand those challenges, and I know we will be stronger moving forward in the new year.
It’s been just about two years since the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 innocent people lost their lives. Our Federation was able to quickly mobilize and put together a moving vigil. Over 600 people of many different faiths filled Temple El Emeth to help honor the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern Jewish history.
A little over a year ago, a man threatened our very own Jewish Community Center on social media. The post contained a video of a man shooting what appeared to be a firearm with the capability of discharging multiple rounds in a short time span. Our senior leadership team was in constant contact with the FBI and local law enforcement leading up to an arrest. This was a clear example of everything going right. We take very seriously the need to be vigilant to ensure the safety of all members of the local Jewish community and Temples, as well as all members and guests of the Jewish Community Center, and our other agencies, Heritage Manor, Levy Gardens, and Jewish Family Services. Security has become a vital part of the mission of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, a mission from which we will never waver.
Then this year brought COVID-19. The pandemic meant we had to quickly change what we offer, and how. We established a hotline to connect people with mental health assistance and other resources. Our JCC received a Temporary Pandemic Child Care License from the State of Ohio, and was one of a few area organizations to offer this service for children of essential workers. Through a collaboration between JCC and JFS, we expanded our mobile meals program, feeding adults over 60 years of age in Mahoning County and northern Columbiana County. We served over 700 people and provided over 3,500 meals a week. We also began offering many of our programs and services in a virtual format, including teletherapy for clients of JFS. And we connected our loved ones in Heritage Manor and Levy Gardens to their families throughout the U.S. using Facetime, Skype, and Zoom.
None of this would have been possible without Federation. With your generous time and money, we have adapted and evolved, as we have for 85 years, which has enabled us to meet these challenges. COVID-19 is still very much a part of all of our lives, and we will continue to do whatever’s needed to address the needs of our Jewish community.
On Rosh Hashanah it is written…on Yom Kippur it is sealed. May it be written that you and your loved ones have a new year that brings fulfillment and happiness, peace and prosperity – all of life’s very best things. On behalf of the staff of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, have a happy, healthy New Year.
Chief Executive Officer, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation