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Even COVID-19 can’t shake the unbreakable bond between Chicago and Israel

Facing the pandemic together, half a world apart

A United Hatzalah volunteer prepares to perform COVID-19 testing with PPE purchased with the help of JUF donations.

The coronavirus is the first emergency that Israel and Chicago are facing simultaneously-and together.  

Even as the Chicago Jewish community battles the pandemic at home, JUF's professional and lay leaders' unbreakable bond with Israel never wavers.  

Last winter, the coronavirus broke out in Israel against a backdrop of political turmoil, the formation of a new government, a complex security situation, and big budget cuts to social service programs. 

Israel has faced a slew of challenges brought on by the pandemic: 

Israeli partner organizations have been stretched thin because of financial hardship faced by its beneficiaries.  

Over a million Israelis were furloughed or lost their jobs, leading to an increased need for food assistance and other forms of financial aid. Many Israeli families were first-time recipients of aid during the weeks spent in lockdown.  

Many students in JUF's Partnership Together region (P2G) region have been unable to connect to their classroom remotely because they lack the necessary technological equipment.  

Isolated Holocaust survivors and elderly citizens require more material, social, and medical support than ever before.  

Children with special needs have trouble adjusting to the new routine and social isolation.  

Children of essential workers need supervision, support, and care.  

The number of sexual abuse victims reaching out to emergency call center has more than doubled, and there has been a dramatic rise in cases of domestic violence.  

Through it all, JUF and its generous donors have answered the call to urgent needs in Israel.  

JUF has supported its historic overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and World ORT, which, in turn, provided critical support to at-risk populations in Israel and Jewish communities around the world, such as in the former FSU. 

JUF has provided over $400,000 to support social organizations in Israel and other overseas Jewish communities.  

Of that money, $86,000 was reallocated from the JUF's Partnership region budget to support immediate needs in the region-in Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir.  

The P2G steering committee distributed an additional $500,000 of board-allocated resources to support the Partnership region's residents. 

JUF has also "helped the helpers"-lending support to medical teams and emergency service providers. 

JUF grantees in Israel have been inspired by JUF's commitment and mutual responsibility for their friends across the ocean. 

We know all too well that the pandemic won't fade away anytime soon, and will continue to take its medical, social, and economic toll for a long time to come.  But it's comforting to know that JUF will stand by its Israeli brothers and sisters for the long haul.  

The coronavirus has broken so much in this world, but even this pandemic can't break the eternal bond between Chicago's Jewish community and Israel.  

Maya Abarbanel is the Programs Manager of the JUF Israel Office. 

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