Amid Coronavirus, Building Bridges with Israel Despite Physical Isolation
Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, many of our global Jewish communities were separated. At times deeply divided on politics, distant geographically, or experiencing disparate socioeconomic realities, the diversity of the global Jewish experience leads to as many opinions and passions as there are Jewish identities.
Despite these great differences, the global pandemic provides us with an opportunity for reflection on just how deeply we are connected. What affects us on one side of the world affects us on the other — and now is the time for us to come together as one Jewish family.
Reflecting on the global response to this pandemic, we must celebrate our Jewish homeland and its leadership role in driving innovation and recovery.
Israel is a nation of innovators accustomed to overcoming challenges and building from the desert up. For instance, one Israeli tech startup, Soapy, has created an anti-viral hand soap that, when paired with specialized hand-washing stations, kills viruses stronger than COVID-19.
Other Israeli startups have introduced antimicrobial fabrics that could be crafted into life-saving face masks and used around the world. Humanitarian efforts led by IsraAid are supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) and remote stress-management courses internationally. Israel’s impact and spirit has always extended far beyond its own borders, and this is certainly the case with the coronavirus.
Outside of Israel, the global Jewish community is similarly responding with great care and leadership to combat this virus. We are inspired by the stories of Rabbi Daniel Nevins, head of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who recently recovered from the coronavirus and donated his plasma to aid the development of therapies against the disease. We are impressed by the students at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, who mobilized their digital fabrication lab to use 3-D printers to print surgical face shields for healthcare workers at their local hospital.
We see our common humanity in the decision of O Boticário, a large Brazilian cosmetics company owned by the billionaire son of Holocaust survivors, to donate 1.7 tons of gel alcohol to their city’s municipal health department to be used as hand sanitizer.
These stories from around the world remind us that the core value that Jews share, enshrined thousands of years ago as we reached the Promised Land, is that we must love and care for one another.
As we face this pandemic together, our bonds are re-awakened — and for many, the crisis has become a call to action. Jews around the world are coming together and looking for opportunities to help. Thousands of Masa Israel Fellows, for example, have chosen to stay in Israel during this crisis and lend a hand. Though they hail from dozens of countries with varying traditions, they are united by their innate connections to the country and its people.
Young doctors from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) enrolled in training programs to receive Israeli licenses, have volunteered to support Israeli medical service providers, despite the risk of their own exposure, because of the immense pressure to meet medical needs as the virus spreads. Participants in Habonim Dror North America’s Workshop program recently relocated from Israel’s center to a kibbutz in the north so that they could help sustain the country’s food supply during this crisis.
Teaching Fellows in Bat Yam are delivering food baskets to their elderly neighbors, while also shifting curricula online to provide their students with continuity and connection. Volunteers from career development programs are now assisting at phone banks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Eilat to check in with and support the elderly, including Holocaust survivors.
The desire to be agents of change is inspiring.
Despite the distance and disparate backgrounds, our community is also sustaining connections through online tools launched in response to the pandemic. We’re witnessing engagement in Jewish communities grow internationally. This is no doubt a testament to the great calling we feel to unite, to care for one another, and to advance efforts to rebuild.
This strength and determination to persevere, lead into a renewed future, and give back extends beyond Israel. This is our global Jewish story. Now is the time to show our leadership, lean on our networks, and share our humanity. We will get through this together.
Ofer Gutman is Acting CEO of Masa Israel Journey.