Shalom Chaverim (Hello Friends),
It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago we were debating whether to cancel large events, and last week we were deciding whether and when to move to working remotely. Today, we’ve seen large scale responses from the federal and state government, significant restrictions on public life, and a general sense that we’re going to be hunkered down in our homes for the foreseeable future. Reality as we know it has changed and we are just beginning to feel the impact of the coronavirus on our health and well-being, our economy, and our world. I wrote last week to inform you of how CJP had begun to respond to this crisis and there is so much more to share just one week later.
Coronavirus Emergency Fund Update
Last Sunday, we opened the CJP Coronavirus Emergency Fund and, as of this morning, we have raised $707,000 from nearly 190 donors. Yesterday, we approved the release of the first $200,000 to meet urgent needs, including: critical support for seniors, access and distribution of food, direct services for vulnerable populations, technology to support people who are socially isolated, and essential food and supplies for the upcoming Passover holiday. You can find an up-to-date list of grantees on JewishBoston.com.
On Tuesday, we sent a community-wide email inviting individuals in need of support or facing financial hardship to call the CJP Warmline, a service that connects people to human service organizations across the community. We’ll also promote the Warmline in local Jewish newspapers, through outreach to partner organizations, and by individual follow-up to ensure that people know about this critical resource. This is our most direct and effective way to ensure that anyone in need does not fall through the cracks, and I encourage you to post and share this communal resource widely.
Creative Approaches to Jewish Life
While we are focused on supporting vulnerable populations, connection, joy, and Jewish life must go on. During this time of social distancing, people are hungry for connection, and people and organizations are responding. Remote learning in Jewish day schools and synagogues is up and running. Many of us have already attended virtual Shabbat services, learning webinars, and other new opportunities—in Boston, Haifa, and around the world. From challah baking classes to sing-alongs, and from lectures to tot shabbat services, social distancing has already unleashed a spirit of creativity and community that has the potential to accelerate new and innovative approaches to Jewish life, learning, and identity.
In the coming weeks, CJP will work with our partners to ensure that there are opportunities for everyone to feel engaged. The JewishBoston.com team is curating the incredible opportunities being offered throughout the community. This is a great time to connect or reconnect with a synagogue, to find a learning opportunity, to explore new ways to “do Judaism” in your home. In anticipation of Passover, CJP hopes to make a “Seder in a Box” available to anyone who needs it, especially those who will not be able to celebrate with their usual family and friends this year. More information will be available soon.
Last week, CJP staff and volunteers came together for a virtual candle lighting, and we will gather again tonight at 6:30 p.m. for a new tradition we’re calling “CJP Friday Night Lights.” Join in and share with anyone who might be interested in welcoming Shabbat. I hope to see some of you there!
A Few Words of Torah: “Enough and More”
There is a moment in this week’s Torah portion that reflects what I am seeing from our community right now. As we conclude the book of Exodus, Moses repeats to the Israelites the detailed instructions for the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). The Torah describes an outpouring of generosity from the “willing of heart.” The text says that the people brought “enough materials for all the work to be done, and more.” This is confusing: Did they bring enough (i.e. the right amount) or did they bring more than necessary?
The answer might be both, and this might be teaching us something about the nature of a community’s sacred work, whether building a tabernacle or facing an unprecedent crisis. Bringing enough, or just the right amount, represents the need for guidelines, boundaries, and instructions. Clearly defined problems, solutions, and processes ensure that our work is done as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is true for communal efforts and for individuals; we need routines, boundaries, and structures to be effective and to sustain ourselves.
At the same time, the willing of heart want to respond with an overflow of generosity, dedication, and passion. Bringing more represents the spirit and urgency with which so many of us want to give, respond, and act. Such is the nature of abundant generosity. We need to be intentional, analytical, and systematic. In the face of adversity, we go beyond what seems reasonable or possible. That, in times of crisis, we can dig deeper, go further, we can experience, create, and realize more.
Over this past week, that is precisely what I’ve been seeing — from colleagues and volunteers, from leaders across the community, and from the hundreds of individuals who are writing, calling, adapting, creating, and giving. All this in order to meet the most pressing needs of those who are vulnerable and at risk, and in order to ensure that Jewish life and community will go on and discover new ways to thrive.
The Work Goes On
This is a time of great uncertainty. The challenges we face from this crisis are evolving, and unprecedented. And, as one of our community rabbis reminded his congregation last week, “character is formed and revealed in the face of adversity.” This is true for individuals and it is true for a community. I know that ours is one that, like the Israelites in the wilderness, will continue to face this challenge with enough, and more.
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.