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Jewish Federation’s first community webinar discusses emergency needs, volunteer opportunities and tips to manage anxiety


On Thursday, March 19th, about 100 community members tuned in online for a virtual discussion about community needs during COVID-19, convened by our Jewish Federation. Our first weekly meeting included the following panelists:


Rabbi Eric Yanoff, co-chair of the Board of Rabbis, gave a d’var about extraordinary circumstances, sha’at hadacha — a term used for emergency situations requiring a creative rethinking of Jewish law — and reminded us of another Hebrew term for “extraordinary,” which is kadosh, usually defined as “holy.”


Kadosh means extraordinary, distinctive, different,” said Rabbi Yanoff. “I would encourage us to ask ourselves how can we be a kehillah kedoshah, an extraordinary and distinctive community, in these extraordinary times.”


Holly Nelson, Chair of the Jewish Federation Crisis Management Committee provided an update on the Jewish Federation COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund stating that many people in our communities do not have access to basic needs during this pandemic. Right now food and food delivery to the homebound are urgent needs.

The Crisis Management Committee has launched a COVID-19 emergency campaign to meet those needs as they emerge. 100% of funds donated to the campaign will go directly to COVID-19 response.

The Jewish Federation and our Jewish communities appreciate any amount given, from anyone who wants to give; please spread the word and the link to donate: jewishphilly.org/covid19


Brian Gralnick, Director of Social Responsibility, Jewish Federation spoke about how every social service agency has had to instantly adapt. For example, all five Mitzvah Food Program pantry locations remain open, but to prevent people from gathering, clients are now handed a pre-packaged bag outside the pantry, rather than choose from a touch screen inside. In addition, all meals-on-wheels programs (through Mitzvah Food Program, KleinLife and JRA) normally go into people’s homes and take an inventory of food needs, but now have a “knock, drop and go” policy.

He expressed appreciation for all frontline social service staff — including at Mitzvah Food Program, JRA, Abramson Senior Center, JFCS, JEVS and KleinLife — who are this pandemic’s “second line of defense.” “KleinLife was the first senior center in Philadelphia to voluntarily shut down,” noted Brian. “That action will save lives.”

This past week, Brian’s staff facilitated what will now be a weekly meeting with all social service agencies to discuss challenges and responses, and how to best collaborate and support one another. They uncovered that rhere is an immediate need for more meals for homebound people. At the moment, KleinLife staff is cooking around the clock. The Jewish Federation and our partners at KleinLife are looking into the cost of purchasing kosher meals from kosher caterers who are still able to mass-produce meals. There is also an immediate need for drivers to deliver meals to people who are homebound and self-quarantine.

Brian also commented that now that socialization programs have been interrupted, there’s significant concern over the impact of social isolation on older adults; research suggests it’s as harmful to their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.


Addie Lewis Klein, Director of Community Engagement, Jewish Federation drew attention to our Jewish Federation’s COVID-19 web page , which is being updated daily with ways to connect to Jewish life and ways to help.

She also reiterated the need for drivers for meals-on-wheels delivery. Volunteers can find sign-up information here.

Other volunteer opportunities include a newly formed Phone-a-Friend program to reduce social isolation for older adults. We’re looking for anyone who can make a commitment to calling someone two or three times a week to check in, find out their needs, then provide feedback to us via an online form to let us know of any social service needs. Volunteers can sign up here.

The Jewish Federation staff is also beginning to think about Passover and how to create online community for seders. Think about whether you might be willing to host someone virtually to join in your family’s seder. More info to come.


Esther Kaplin, therapist, offered pointers on managing anxiety in times of crisis:

  • Stay informed, but don't obsessively monitor the news. Limit yourself to checking in the morning, noon and evening, no more than 30 minutes at a time, and only reading trustworthy news sources.
  • Keep a routine. Stick to a schedule without being too rigid.
  • Stay connected. “Social distancing is how we’re going to stop this virus, but we are social beings,” she said.
    • Stay in touch with family and friends; consider scheduling regular online “dates,” especially if you have a tendency to withdraw.
    • Be wise about who you turn to for support. Some people in your life increase your anxiety; keep those contacts short and polite.
    • Social media can be a powerful reminder that we’re not alone, but can also increase negative feelings, so log off if it makes you feel worse.


To watch the recording, click here. Our next weekly COVID-19 community webinar will take place on Thursday, March 26th, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m., via Zoom. To register, click here. For more COVID-19 resources from the Jewish Federation click here.