Human Services / Nonprofit Sector

Jewish Philanthropy Responds to COVID-19

December 3, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has challenged and changed every community. With no warning, the spaces that bring people together were shut down, with no certain return date. Months later, we are still struggling to cope with massive disruption and find safe ways to connect.

The Jewish community is no exception. Like many religions, Judaism centers around communal rituals of holidays, the Sabbath, and life-cycle events. Beyond the cancelled Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and communal Passover Seders, the closures brought on by the pandemic threatened to collapse the infrastructure of institutions that maintain the fabric of Jewish life. These institutions also serve their larger communities – and when these institutions suffer, so does everyone who relies on them, including families, children, and seniors.  

In the wake of COVID-19 closures, seven Jewish foundations formed the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), a $91 million interest-free loan and grant program, to help sustain Jewish institutions during the pandemic. JCRIF’s funders include: the Aviv Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, Maimonides Fund, the Paul E. Singer Foundation, and the Wilf Family Foundation, all in partnership with Jewish Federations of North America.

JCRIF’s loan program, administered by NFF, was designed to provide quick relief and allow organizations to continue to serve their communities amid the growing health and economic crises. Among the many organizations that have received funding from JCRIF to help sustain their important work are the Scranton Jewish Community Center and Ramah Darom.

JCC Scranton

Scranton’s Jewish Community Center is a hub of health and well-being. Members will tell you, “It’s not just a gym!”

JCC Scranton is a 111-year old Jewish community center serving northeastern Pennsylvania with a fitness and wellness center, daycare, youth summer day camp, and facilities available for use by other local organizations.

“Scranton’s top industries include healthcare and government. Our ability to provide childcare, camp, and now a supportive learning pod for children doing school remotely has helped ensure essential workers – and those without other options – have quality childcare,” said Dan Cardonick, JCC Scranton’s executive director.

Unfortunately, JCC Scranton’s revenues from membership dues are down 40 percent since the pandemic began. Fundraising events were postponed. Even childcare revenue is down as the JCC has halved enrollment to maintain safety. At the same time, the JCC is spending more on cleaning, PPE, equipment like HEPA air filters, and staff to maintain new protocols. All of these challenges made it harder for JCC Scranton to offer the crucial services it provides to the community.

Thanks to a loan from JCRIF, JCC Scranton has received the funding it needs to continue to meet its mission.

“This loan has helped us continue to support the mental, physical, social, and spiritual health and well-being of our community. One of the most important things it will allow us to do next is to address social isolation among Jewish and other seniors in Scranton. Right now, we’re distributing meals, but we are working on ways to bring them back to our building safely, so they can again experience the myriad benefits of in-person connection.”

Ramah Darom

Wally Levitt is the CEO of Ramah Darom, a sprawling outdoor campus in Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains that is home to a summer camp, year-round retreats that build community, programming for children on the autism spectrum, and holiday celebrations.

When the pandemic hit the US, Ramah Darom made the difficult decision to cancel its scheduled PJ Library retreat in March, hoping the campus could reopen the following month. But the cancellations kept rolling. First, the 10-day Passover retreat that attracted families from across the country and abroad, then more weekend retreats, and finally, the summer camp were all cancelled. Ramah Darom also relies on rentals from other groups, which were also cancelled one by one.

“It was all understandable, but with each cancellation came the big question: How would we stay afloat?” said Levitt.

Even without activities, the campus requires constant upkeep and has year-round employees. Would it still be there as a place for community members to connect after the pandemic?

Levitt leaned on the community for support and says many have stepped up to keep Ramah Darom going. JCRIF was the first source of funding that Levitt secured, covering the cancellation of the Passover program.

“We would not have been able to get through this time successfully without JCRIF’s support,” Levitt said.

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