By Meara Razon Ashtivker | JNS
This Passover is a revealing moment for our people as we face deep uncertainty, anxiety and fear amid the coronavirus pandemic. As the exodus story articulates so well, Jews are resilient survivors, and we will certainly find new ways to maintain and move forward as a Jewish community. Today’s challenges offer us an opportunity to glimpse what the future may look like. And this year, to the four questions we must ask a fifth: How do we rebuild?
Three lessons can be gleaned from our reactions to this plague that can assist our community in adjusting for Passover during this pandemic and strengthen us beyond. First, how we engage with one another this year and in the future will blend online and offline connections like never before. We are already seeing this with the recent historic ruling by senior Orthodox rabbis who have given permission to use the Zoom video conferencing service during the Passover seder. Coming out of the crisis, we will be stronger and more connected for having learned yet again to adapt.
The second lesson we must embrace is that Israel is the glue that binds us together. We see Israel unite us, even with travel restrictions, as Jews around the world look for opportunities to help one another and stay connected. At Masa, our international family has felt closer, despite the physical distancing, because of Israel. We have a network of 160,000 alumni from 62 countries, as well as 4,200 Masa Israel Fellows in Israel currently.
Masa: Online, our new virtual platform, hosts a wide range of our programs. We’ve all been impacted by this pandemic, yet we’re not living in social isolation. The bridges we’ve built through Israel have enabled us to maintain strong relationships digitally, so we don’t feel alone.
The final lesson, which also is the answer to our fifth question, is that in order to recover and build as a community, we must embrace the importance of our Jewish institutions. Most were built at a time of economic stability, growth and possibility. We may have been taking them for granted while they steadfastly created a framework of resources that we must now rely on to care for the needy and most vulnerable in our community. To rebuild our Jewish community after the virus has passed over us, we must step up as a community and invest in the institutions that provide Jewish experiences and crucial resources.
We must help each other stay engaged with our Jewish traditions and the people of Israel. We need to continue our learning and growth so that we stay connected and strong during and after these challenging times. The Jewish Agency for Israel, Jewish federations, JCCs, synagogues and nonprofits will ensure that Jews have access to experiences and services that will help us heal. Our community will need diverse resources to rebuild, and we are so fortunate to have a web of connected services ready to help us do just that.
Meara Razon Ashtivker is Masa Israel Journey’s North American COO.