“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the
news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find
people helping.” -Fred Rogers.
When the streets and offices started to clear in
mid-March and the devastating news of COVID-19 rampantly tore through our state,
I, like many, felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear. As the death
count rose, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and I turned to the
only sense of control I knew – keeping my family safe and finding ways to help
those more vulnerable. I immediately turned to Jewish community – specifically
JUF and Anshe Emet Synagogue – to offer my help.
Sometimes we take large, well established Jewish
organizations for granted. Millennials often prefer to give directly to
individual causes and, being a millennial myself, I understand why. But
throughout this time of great uncertainty, I have felt grateful for the breadth
and depth of this community. I knew JUF and Anshe Emet could grasp the scale of
the need far better than I and they had the relationships already in place to
provide immediate and meaningful assistance.
Working with Anshe Emet’s “Caring Committee,” I have had
the opportunity to serve as a volunteer coordinator to make weekly calls to
older congregants checking on their physical, mental, and spiritual health. My
husband’s and my calls resulted in the synagogue getting a thermometer to a
congregant battling COVID-19 at home, connecting parents whose children had the
virus to provide support, delivering Pesach meals to a congregant living alone
and connecting people to virtual seders and synagogue classes. And those were
just our calls; the impact of the combined 700 calls from volunteers has been
enormous. Most of all, this opportunity has created new friendships and I feel
more a part of the synagogue community than ever before.
When I contacted JUF to help, they suggested I sign up
for the JUF COVID-19 Volunteer Database. These
weekly e-mails provide opportunities to contribute remotely or in-person. I
have made art projects and written letters to residents at the Self Help Home
with our toddler and have become pen pals with a 95-year old Holocaust
survivor. I have sent groceries to a refugee family, donated to The Ark,
donated pizza to healthcare workers through Young Women’s City Council, and
donated food and household items through the JUF Women’s Division. While the
need will continue to grow and we will never feel we are doing enough, I find
comfort and take pride in being a part of this community now more than ever.
The magnitude and cohesion of the Jewish community of
Chicago is a force envied by many Jewish and non-Jewish groups throughout the
country in regular times. But the way the Jewish community of Chicago has
assessed needs, maximized our resources, created opportunities to volunteer and
communicated its action during this time is nothing short of extraordinary.
-Submitted by Emily Berman Pevnick