This week, the Jewish News is sharing more stories of people and organizations that are stepping up and giving back to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Offering comfort and joy in the form of a lawn sign, donating masks to local schools and preparing hot meals for families experiencing homelessness are all ways the Jewish community continues to live the concept of tikkun olam in these trying times.
Lawn signs unite community, bring joy during pandemic
“Kindness, Patience, and Hope are also Highly Contagious. Don’t Wait To Catch It...Be a Carrier,” the brightly colored signs proclaim. Scores of them popped up on lawns in Flagstaff over the past few months, and the source isn’t hard to find.
For Chabad of Flagstaff, offering the lawn signs to the community free of charge was a fun and simple way to offer hope during a difficult time.
“We wondered what we could offer to our greater community to lift everyone’s spirits,” said Rabbi Dovie Shapiro, executive director of Chabad of Flagstaff. “In the midst of a dark and confusing time, we looked for a silver lining and a positive message.”
The idea for the lawn signs, and the message that they’re emblazoned with, came from Rabbi Shmulik Moscowitz, who saw friends and colleagues at other Chabad houses doing similar projects across the country. He realized that the signs would be a perfect fit for Flagstaff.
“I said, ‘That would be something that would really inspire people here in Flagstaff,’ because we know what type of community it is over here, and we know how much people care about each other and love each other,” Moscowitz said. “We thought that this would be something that would be beautiful, not only for our congregants, but for the entire community.”
The project did just that: With a couple hundred yard signs already distributed and another order on the way, Flagstaff residents are showing their appreciation for the opportunity to share a bit of joy.
“Our lawn sign is an inspiration of unity and how together we can bring back a bright and healthy future,” said Steve Chatinsky, who lives in Flagstaff.
Another resident, Wendy Weed, was particularly moved by the message of the signs.
“‘Kindness, Patience and Hope’ are three strong affirmations we can all use more of during these troubled times,” Weed said. “So many changes, unknowns and losses can lead to feelings of despair, but these three qualities we all possess, can be greatly strengthened by remembering to share them with one other.”
While the pandemic has kept Chabad of Flagstaff closed to the public, passersby do stop to inquire about the signs. Most of the signs have been distributed through word-of-mouth, Moscowitz said, with neighbors noticing the signs and asking where they can get one.
And the trend isn’t just picking up in Flagstaff. Residents of Greater Phoenix, including NAU alumni and parents as well as summer vacationers and owners of second homes in Flagstaff, have stopped by to pick up a sign or inquired about having one delivered.
“Once they saw that we were spreading this message and giving out these signs, a lot of people from Phoenix asked for them,” Moscowitz said. “This is not only something that’s happening here in Flagstaff, a lot of people in Phoenix and Scottsdale as well have been getting these signs.”
The signs are free, which, Moscowitz noted, is emblematic of Chabad’s open door policy. While some people donate a few dollars to help cover the cost, Chabad of Flagstaff is happy to make sure they’re available to anyone who wants one.
“Whether you’re Jewish or not doesn’t make a difference — whether you could afford it or not,” Moscowitz said. “The main thing is really to lift up people’s spirits, and so that was something that was very important to us.”
CBI collects child-sized masks for local schools
Masks have become a critical tool for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be more important than ever as public schools open their classrooms this month.
To help keep teachers and students safe, Congregation Beth Israel is collecting child-sized masks throughout the month of August to donate to Phoenix Elementary School District #1, which oversees 14 elementary schools in Phoenix.
“In the recent changes in our world, it’s become clear that we need to show one another how much we care, and be there for one another; even when we can’t physically be together,” said Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin, associate rabbi at CBI.
The mask collection in August is just the latest in a series of projects that CBI has undertaken since the start of the pandemic. CBI Cares, an initiative that’s part of the Hilton Family Welcome Home Project, started with phone calls to every congregant at the beginning of the pandemic. Those calls are ongoing, with staff reaching out to each member once every six weeks.
“We also want to make sure that we’re not just showing that [care] internally but externally as well, so we began with a CBI Cares day in July, where we did a blood drive and we collected baby bundles for Arizona Helping Hands and backpacks for JFCS,” Mason-Barkin said. “Now our goal is to do a different kind of tikkun olam community caring project every month.”
The inspiration for the August project came from an Arizona Republic article, “Low-income schools face a new challenge: Getting enough face masks for students,” which described local schools and teachers asking for and accepting mask donations. After Robin Roeder, CBI’s chief communal and executive officer, brought the article to the synagogue’s attention, Mason-Barkin reached out to the district, which was happy to accept donations of masks from the community.
“Even though the schools have some money for PPE, everything they don’t have to provide gives them more money for PPE in other areas,” Mason-Barkin said. “So by collecting masks from outside sources, they can use the money internally for the plexiglass shields or the face guards for the teachers or whatever it is extra that they need to keep these kids safe.”
So far, congregants have been eager to pitch in. One member has been sewing masks by hand and offered to help others do the same. Around 100 masks have been brought to the synagogue, and the synagogue will buy more using money donated to the CBI Cares Fund this month.
As the mom of an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, Mason-Barkin knows how important it is to have masks that fit and feel comfortable for kids.
“Kids can wear masks, but it also needs to be a mask that feels comfortable and is right for the shape of their face, the size of their face and the particular sensory feel that is the least distracting to them,” Mason-Barkin said. “So having a variety is really important and having one that fits is really important because otherwise it just falls right down.”
In addition to helping students in Phoenix schools, the project gives CBI members a way to give back and participate in their community right now, and that’s just as important, Mason-Barkin said.
“In a time in our world and in our lives where we feel like the world is so much bigger than we are and like we can’t fix it … if you can find this one small puzzle piece that you can put back, it gives us all a sense of purpose and meaning and a way to feel like we have some small tiny bit of control over the chaos of our lives,” Mason-Barkin said. “So I think people really appreciate having a concrete way to do that. And it’s not going to fix everything, but that one little mask is going to make that one little day better for that one child and that helps.”
Family Promise continues caring for families with help from synagogues
Prior to the pandemic, Family Promise of Greater Phoenix, an emergency shelter program for first-time homeless families, relied on a network of volunteer churches and synagogues to host families experiencing homelessness as they worked to help them get back on their feet. Now, with the network system on pause due to COVID-19, and families sheltering in place at refurbished day centers, the organization’s faith partners are continuing to make meals and deliver them to families.
The Family Promise network includes three synagogues, Temple Chai, Temple Solel and Temple Kol Ami. Most recently, Temple Solel prepared meals the week of July 12, and Temple Chai did so the week of Aug. 2.
“We are very blessed to continue to receive support from both Temple Chai and Temple Solel,” one Family Promise staff member said. “The very act of preparing and delivering meals to those who are vulnerable ties the two components of social action and social justice in one generous and supportive act.”
So far this year, the organization successfully served 75 families comprised of 103 adults and 148 children, in spite of the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.
“Had we not been able to adapt to our current reality, many of these families would be in dire, life-threatening situations as they await the top spot on the Valley’s shelter waiting list,” said Ted Taylor, executive director at Family Promise of Greater Phoenix. “Fortunately, with the help of our donors, volunteers, and staff, we’ve been able to keep our promise to serve families in need.”
The act of providing hot meals makes a huge difference for families sheltering at Family Promise day centers, staff said.
“Meals are so much more than food,” the staff member said. “They bring a sense of family, of security, of joy … and our families are coming together in very difficult times to break bread together, to share a story, to laugh and to bond. If that is not a definition of repairing the world one family at a time, I don’t know of a better one.” JN