Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
I’ve spent much of the past week in touch with organizations and community members, talking about how CJP can play a positive role in helping people find the assistance they need while staying connected and engaged Jewishly during a very challenging time.
The world is changing fast and we’re all facing significant challenges together. From the daily tally of new coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in our area and around the world to the cancelation of religious services, community gatherings, sporting events, and schools, the word “anxiety” doesn’t begin to cover what many of us are feeling right now. We wish everyone who is already and who will be afflicted by this, in our community and around the world, a refuah shleimah, a full recovery.
I find myself toggling back and forth between many different emotions. I am trying to remember the importance of calm, perspective, and pragmatism. It helps when I speak with medical professionals and leaders who helped make sense of the situation and remind me that we will get through it.
In the meantime, there are steps we can take to mitigate the spread of the virus to give our hospitals and health care providers the best chance of serving the maximum number of people. Many of us have seen the image and are coming to understand the concept of #flattenthecurve. I encourage you to check it out because it helped me understand how and why the decisions we make today will directly impact the direction of this crisis in the coming weeks and months.
To date, CJP has taken a number of steps, including:
- Transitioned to a remote working environment for most staff beginning this morning.
- Reached out to and convened partner organizations across the community to assess and anticipate their needs and the needs of the people they serve.
- Formed a team, including agency executives, to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable in our community in the short- and long-term
- Created a page on JewishBoston.com with a variety of resources for keeping connected to Jewish life, tips for families and kids, and current information.
As a Jewish community — and with our partners across the Commonwealth and the world — we need to proactively and strategically identify where we are most at risk, where there will be suffering and hardship, especially among our most vulnerable. We also need to determine the impact of social distancing for our sense of connection to one another and to the vibrant Jewish life we strive to create. We’re already seeing great examples of synagogues and other organizations convening Purim services online, planning virtual Shabbat candle lightings and services, and upcoming webinars about how to work, learn, parent, and worship from home. If you or an organization you’re involved with has ideas and offerings you can open up to a wider audience, please email our colleagues at JewishBoston.com.
We can be a community where no one falls through the cracks. And, we can be a community that achieves this through rapid responsiveness; focused, systemic efforts; creativity and ingenuity in the face of new challenges; collaboration and partnership, especially at times when we could retreat into our physical and metaphorical silos. Especially in the face of crisis, we need to have each other’s backs, lift one another up, and create a community of communities where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What Gives Me Hope
Seeing the response of so many CJP staff and volunteers who, while managing their own and each other’s fears and concerns, are responding to challenge and change with laser-focus, adaptability, and positivity. We will find new and alternative ways to fulfill our sacred responsibilities to serve our community and our partners. People are stepping up. They are defining priorities, deliverables, and work, utilizing new technologies and alternative approaches to engagement and collaboration, and reimagining how to do things that we’ve been doing the same way for a long time.
And I am inspired by the leaders of our Jewish community. I have spoken with so many people in whom we all put our trust every day — rabbis, school heads, executives, educators, volunteers, and others — who are leading with decisiveness, courage, and spiritual fortitude. This is a time when leadership, and followership, both matter so much.
With things changing hour-to-hour, there are not always clear answers to the dilemmas we all face, so I am grateful for the level of thoughtfulness and intentionality with which I see so many of our leaders making decisions on our behalf.
We can all do our part in supporting those who serve us, showing appreciation, and letting them know that we are behind them and ready to be part of the solutions, even when they require discomfort and change. We are deeply appreciative of every leader across this community.
What Can You Do?
At CJP, we will continue to reach out to as many leaders and organizational partners as we can, in order to express support and identify needs, and in order to collaboratively anticipate how, together, we can best meet the essential needs of our entire community.
I encourage you to visit our new COVID-19 community resources page on JewishBoston.com. You’ll find information about virtual Jewish services and other happenings, prayers and reflections, guidance for families, and relevant news and information about what you do to keep our community strong.
You can be part of virtual events and let others know of those that have been cancelled on JewishBoston.com. You can support CJP and other organizations across our community that are helping the most vulnerable and isolated. And you can check in with the people you care about, by phone, through a video chat, or other ways, so that everyone can continue to feel connected despite the recommended safe distance.
Each of us has a part to play in flattening the curve, taking care of one another, and creating a community that stays resilient and strong at times like this. Despite the physical distances between us, we will work together and continue to focus on what matters — keeping our community safe, connected, thriving, and engaged, whether we do it with phone calls and text messages, virtual, shared experiences, or donating to organizations that we care about.
A Word of Torah — Finding Meaning in Our Tradition
In this week’s Torah portion, after the Israelites build the Golden Calf, Moses has an encounter with God that is one of the most mystical, spiritual, intimate moments in the Torah.
Pleading on behalf of the Jewish People after God threatens to call the entire relationship off, Moses not only asks God for forgiveness but implores him to stay with him and with them on the journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. After God acquiesces in a moment of rachamim (compassion), Moses asks God to “show me your face.” The desire for intimacy and connection is overwhelmingly powerful. To which God responds in a way that feels haunting to me right now, “A person cannot see my face and live.”
God seems to be saying that, even with the people we love, even when all is healthy and well, there is only so close we can get. Such is the paradoxical nature of intimacy, connection, and love. We are always wrestling with the balance between seeing and looking away, between closeness and distance, between connection and boundaries.
In our world of technology, sometimes when we are more “connected” than ever, we are more disconnected than ever. At the same time, perhaps moments that threaten to pull us apart, when the right thing to do is to socially, physically distance ourselves, we can create opportunities to see one another in new ways and find new opportunities for connection that we have taken for granted or overlooked before.
Social distancing will keep us physically well; maintaining human contact will keep us spiritually and emotionally well. May we find new and creative ways to keep supporting one another, connecting, and creating the communities and the world as we know they can be.
Rabbi Marc Baker
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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.