Rallying call from chiefs to help all during coronavirus crisis

National and local leaders launch raft of initiatives to help isolated and preserve Jewish life amid unprecedented change



National and local community leaders have invoked the wartime spirit and launched initiatives to maintain Jewish life and help those isolated by shul closures, care homes suspending visits and charities cancelling events in line with government advice over coronavirus.

Norwood has taken “the unprecedented step” of launching a recruitment drive, hoping to attract “a small army of volunteers and new workers to help as and when needed”.

Recognising that cover would be required if key workers became ill, the charity also sees the scheme as an opportunity to offer short-term employment to those whose normal source of income has been affected by the crisis.

Norwood head of recruitment Pippa Ewings said: “Whether you can drive a car and want to volunteer to ensure vital supplies reach our centres or are able to assist our staff as they work in the homes, we have an urgent need for your support.

“And if you find your own workplace temporarily or permanently closed, Norwood can also offer you a temporary contract to work in our services.

“All volunteers and new employees will be offered training and no one seeking temporary work for Norwood will be tied into a permanent contract.”

The Jewish Volunteering Network is also offering a range of options to assist charities including Jewish Care, Norwood, Jewish Choice, The Fed in Manchester, Hertsmere Mencap and Caritas.

Announcing its decision to shut shuls on Tuesday night, the US said the advice of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was that “our Torah obligation to protect the sanctity of life transcends all other considerations”.

Informing leaders of the “painful” decision, US president Michael Goldstein added: “The community should not facilitate, support or publicise any minyanim or services in members’ homes.

"Sifrei Torah should not be loaned for these purposes. We understand the implication of this on individuals who wish to say Kaddish. It also means, sadly, that we will not be able to hold barmitzvahs, batmitzvahs or other smachot.”

Although weddings had been exempted, “restrictive regulations will be in place”.

The S & P Sephardi Community has also moved to close its synagogues. Other groupings left the decision to individual congregations but many communities followed suit.

Those still operating are doing so in a limited form.

Most people were understanding about the US’s decision. However, doctor and broadcaster Dr Ellie Cannon took issue, saying: “The resilience of the community has been put at stake,” highlighting “the people who go to shul for comfort, for solace, to escape abusive partners, to escape their real life, to be mindful, to have something to eat or just to speak to someone once a week”.

She warned that “people like myself working in mental health and the NHS will be dealing with the fallout from this decision long after we have dealt with corona[virus].”

The Board of Deputies is promoting support for those self-isolating by disseminating a Can I Help You? “card” which can be printed, filled out and posted through the letter-box of neighbours.

The idea is that people give their contact details and tick boxes denoting potential areas of help — shopping, posting mail, a chat by phone.

“At this time of national and international crisis, it is up to all of us to do whatever we can to help those in need,” said Board president Marie van der Zyl.

On Friday at 5pm, the US is livestreaming a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Facebook. Jonny Turgel, chazan of Stanmore Synagogue will perform the familiar tunes from his home and the US is inviting members of all communities to join in from theirs.

Stanmore’s Rabbi Daniel Fine will share a dvar Torah. The service will stop before candle lighting and then viewers will be asked to switch off, light candles, finish the service themselves and make kiddush.

If the idea proves popular, the plan is for a different rabbi to lead the service each week.
A number of Reform and Liberal communities are also offering service streaming.

Charedi community representative Rabbi Avraham Pinter said that “at the moment we are not closing shuls.

“We are obviously encouraging shuls to make sure that there are distances between people. Obviously, elderly people have been told they don’t need to attend.”

Charities which have called off dinners say they are relying on the goodwill of donors to make up the lost income.

Even before the government’s announcement on Wednesday that schools would shut down on Friday, Jewish educational organisations had been stepping up efforts to deliver home-based learning to children.

The JLC’s schools’ network, Pajes, and Jewish Interactive, which specialises in digital Jewish studies, began training for teachers in offering online programming.

But Kirsten Jowett, chief executive of the United Synagogue’s Jewish Community Academy Trust, a consortium of five primary schools in London and Hertfordshire, told parents and staff that the government’s latest directive was “not that simple for schools.

“They are asking schools to stay open for all children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. We have not yet received guidance on what this means.”

Jewish Care has suspended all visits to its care homes, with exceptions only for relatives visiting loved ones receiving end of life care and visiting medical professionals.

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