This Hanukkah we are taking a moment to shine a light on the resilience of our community throughout this past year. Tonight, we light the 7th candle of the menorah and read how our community brought light and hope to those affected by COVID-19.
In times of crisis, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio is here. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federation immediately took action in March by creating a Crisis Allocations Sub-committee and allocating $180,000 to Jewish organizations. The first round of allocations went to area synagogues and Jewish agencies to retain staff and protect critical services. The Stanley and Linda Blend family generously challenged San Antonio with a $150,000 matching grant. Together, the San Antonio Jewish community raised almost half a million dollars. A second round of allocations took place in April. The agencies who received direct support from this Community Crisis Campaign are the Barshop Jewish Community Center, Camp Young Judaea, Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning, Congregation Agudas Achim, Congregation Rodfei Sholom, Greene Family Camp, Hebrew Free Loan Association of San Antonio, Jewish Family Service, Ohr Lanu Foundation, San Antonio Jewish Senior Services, Shmuel Bass Torah Academy of San Antonio, Temple Beth-El, and Temple Chai.
The JCC closed its doors on Thursday, March 19, and like so many other organizations, immediately pivoted from a direct service, face-to-face approach to engaging our members and the community in a virtual setting. At the same time, the JCC, in concert with lay and staff leaders, began to strategize the resumption of in-person programs and services under best health and safety practices. While gradual, in-person options from our early childhood services, J-Camp, lap swimming, tennis, group exercise, and even distance learning facilitation for families became a reality; and for many, a lifesaver for themselves and their families.
When the pandemic first started in March, Jewish Family Service didn’t miss a beat by switching its counseling and psychiatry services to HIPAA-compliant telehealth services. JFS saw a 400% increase in calls asking for help. Besides counseling, JFS was able to start educating the public about anxiety during a pandemic. Talli Dolge, CEO, and Kristy Dean, CCO, spoke to more than 25 organizations about how to reduce stress during COVID-19. They have now started a follow up talk about the ordinary magic of resilience to show attendees how to use certain skills to overcome adversity.
From January to October, the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, a program of the Jewish Federation, has reached 1,645 students through tours and 766 walk-ins prior to closing due to Covid-19. Major events such as Learn and Remember, virtual Yom HaShoah, and a teacher workshop saw 771 people attend. In June, the newly redesigned HMMSA website saw 7,264 page views while the museum’s social media sites saw close to 9,000 video hits on web series such as Aspects of Judaism, HMMSA Book Talks, and other videos. Throughout 2020, the HMMSA has ensured that, even amid a worldwide pandemic, the mission to teach the dangers of hatred, anger and apathy continues.
Congregation Rodfei Sholom’s mission is to “To Connect Jews to the living Torah, each other and Klal Yisrael”. By returning to in person services as soon as it was safe, Rodfei Sholom broughtlight to the entire community by not only providing a place for in person worship but also with Covid precautions and protocol, a haven for all Jews to know they are not alone. There was always a minyan and Shabbat Services available during times where people felt anxious and isolated. Their in-person alternative gave an additional beam of warmth and light beyond our virtual programming.
Temple Beth-El supported dozens of Jewish individuals in San Antonio during the pandemic with direct financial assistance through its Landsman Family Relief Fund. Many were smallbusiness owners who were profoundly affected by the shutdown and lost much of their regular income. Some congregants also received interest-free loans from the Temple’s Joseph, Rose, Myron, and Norman Fink Memorial Loan Fund. Additionally, the Landsman Fund made a generous grant to Nechama – Jewish Response to Disaster, which did important relief work in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura. The fund also provided humanitarian relief to Tiferet Israel Synagogue in Camaguey, Cuba.