Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected the poor and elderly across the world. For JDC, this meant working with local and national partners to provide life-saving services like food, medicine, home care, basic health care and other relief.
This included expanding the hotlines to all Hesed social-welfare centers, working with JDC volunteers to continue the delivery of food and activity sets, such as special holiday packages for Passover and Shavuot, and deploying digital resources like video calls to seniors. They also partnered with an Israeli firm, TechForGood, to “identify tech-based solutions to manage loneliness and social distancing among seniors; monitor the activities, needs and emergency alerts from elderly; and ensuring efficient management of caregivers.”
Despite the challenges facing the Jewish communities in the FSU, Frank said the pandemic has also opened up new outreach to those they serve.
She specifically cited how digital programming and assistance from young volunteers have created new avenues of assistance and connection that didn’t exist just three months ago.
“We have discovered new opportunities for online community programming that is educational, cultural, as well as a powerful engagement tool. For example, through digital programming, our network of JCCs is seeing previously uninvolved community members joining online activities,” she said.
Additionally, she said they were also surprised by how many elderly Jews embraced technology during this time stuck at home.
“We’ve discovered that our elderly clients are more enthusiastic about and desire these kinds of offerings than we anticipated,” said Frank. “We need to ensure that they have access to technology, working within the challenges in the region regarding Internet and mobile connectivity, and continue to adapt content for their needs.”
“While we hope one day to return to in-person activity,” she continued, “we know that the initial work we have made in adapting to digital content and programming for the wider Jewish community needs to now be in place.”
While it’s impossible to predict how the pandemic will continue to unfold globally and within Eastern Europe, Levin said Jewish organizations in the region have been working hard to keep the most vulnerable protected and make sure that Jewish life continues. “The bottom line is the leadership in all these countries, along with the assistance of international organizations like the JDC, European Jewish Congress, World Jewish Congress, the Jewish agency. They believe they have the situation under control as much as they can.”