Community leaders come together to share updates, knowledge and next steps

On Friday, March 20th, local Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders tuned in online for our second weekly COVID-19 virtual discussion, convened by our Jewish Federation. Each of our panelists discussed the evolving pandemic from the standpoints of their different demographics:

City of Philadelphia Policy and Resources

Nicola Mammes, of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management, called in from a mobile command bus. She assured us that the office has prepared for a pandemic scenario such as this, and has been activated from the start of this emergency.

  • She stressed that while the city’s guidelines for social distancing were changing rapidly, the core message remained the same: “The best thing anyone can do is to stay home and limit interactions with others.”
  • Faith communities are especially important to the city’s outreach efforts.
  • City resources:
    • To receive factual and timely COVID text alerts from the city, text “covidphl” to 888777
    • Dedicated city webpage for updated information:
    • If you or anyone in your Greater Philadelphia community has a medical concern related to COVID-19, call 1.800.722.7112; this is a new 24/7 and free helpline staffed by medical professionals

State and Federal Government Policy

Hank Butler, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Jewish coalition, reported on the previous day’s executive order to shut down “non-essential” businesses. He detailed that the list of businesses is five pages long, but that exempted from the list — businesses that can continue to work — include individual family services, community food and housing, emergency and other relief services, religious organizations, grantmaking and giving services, social advocacy and civic organizations. “So a lot of the services we provide to those in need can still continue,” Hank concluded.

  • Josh Dubensky, policy aide for Senator Bob Casey, told us about how Sen. Casey (who serves as Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging) is particularly focused on how the virus will affect older people and people with disabilities. As the Senate works on its aid package in response to the pandemic, Sen. Casey is pushing to increase funding for things like nursing homes’ infection control, home and community based services, protection for home health workers, meal delivery services.

Emergency COVID-19 Fund

Holly Nelson, Chair of the Jewish Federation Crisis Management Committee, and Sarah Solomon, Major Gifts Officer, told us about Jewish Federation’s newly-launched COVID-19 Emergency Campaign.

  • Many people in our communities are not having basic needs met during this pandemic. Food and food delivery to the homebound are the most urgent needs. We’ve launched a COVID-19 emergency campaign to meet needs as they emerge. 100% of funds donated to the campaign will go directly to COVID-19 response.
  • The campaign was “soft launched” one week ago with an email from Board Chair Susanna Lachs Adler to our entire Jewish Federation database of 50,000 people. 
  • The frontline fundraising team has been activated to have as many conversations as possible via phone, zoom and text. We have also set up a dedicated mailbox to ensure all gifts are processed quickly and efficiently.
  • We ask all community leaders to reach out to your congregations, agency boards and beyond to spread the word about the fund. Jewish Federation is here to support any communications or marketing efforts you may need.
  • Any amount is appreciated, from anyone who wants to give. The link to donate:

Food Insecurity and Older Adults

Brian Gralnick, Jewish Federation’s Director of Social Responsibility, spoke about the Mitzvah Food Program, whose clients also are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

  • 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.
  • Brian 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. “I am confident that action has saved lives.”
  • This past week, the Jewish Federation 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.
  • There has been an uptick in Mitzvah Food Pantry clients. “All of our pantries are open to all people, regardless of religion,” Brian reminded us. “Our agencies have done an incredible job of stepping up and serving our entire community.”
  • There is an immediate need for more meals for homebound people. At the moment, KleinLife staff is cooking around the clock. We 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-quarantined.
  • 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.

Community Ritual Gathering

Rabbi Eric Yanoff, co-chair of the Board of Rabbis, told us about how the Board has been thinking about community gatherings under extraordinary circumstances, sha’at hadacha, in order to be a resource to clergy. “One of the early questions was about funeral practices,” Rabbi Yanoff said. “Now we’re onto what Pesach looks like.”

  • Generally, conversations revolve around redefining the meaning of community during this exceptional moment, and trying to mitigate the mental, emotional and Jewish effects of the current disruption.
  • The board of Rabbis is working on putting together a clearinghouse of teachings and practices that are going on during the pandemic, to be an online resource to the rabbinate.
  • Passover discussions are in their earliest stages, including ways to kasher for Passover and obtain Passover food. As for how to observe seder, the Board of Rabbis represents many different types of Judaism, some of which are open to having Zoom seders. Passover is among the most observed Jewish holidays, and it’s of the utmost importance to figure out how people can celebrate it at home homes in a way that fulfills our needs.

Volunteer Opportunities

Addie Lewis Klein, Director of Community Engagement of the Jewish Federation reported on immediate volunteer opportunities:

  • Meals-on-wheels delivery drivers. Volunteers for Mitzvah Food Program, JRA and Kleinlife are needed. Signup information can be found here.
  • Jewish Federation is starting a 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.
  • “Please share this information widely with your organizations,” emphasized Addie. “We’re stronger together, we can’t do this alone.”


Steve Rosenberg, Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Federation, has spoken with the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as with Tali Lidar, the head of our own Israel office, to begin to assess Israel’s needs. Reported that aliyah is still continuing unabated, with the one change that olim must spend their first 14 days in Israel in quarantine.


For more COVID-19 resources from the Jewish Federation click here. If you are a Jewish communal professional who would like to join us on these calls, please email with subject line “Join Webinar.” Read a recap of last week's Leadership call here