The arrival of supplies to Chain Link services in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Jewish nonprofit organizations in the heath care arena, including nursing homes and assisted-living centers, hospice facilities and those who provide homecare for Holocaust survivors and other vulnerable populations, have witnessed overwhelming fatality rates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unwilling to sit idly by, a group of “next generation” young communal Jewish leaders and heads of nonprofit Jewish organizations have mobilized, along with the mainstream Jewish community, to launch a worldwide emergency campaign — called “Pledge to Protect” — to purchase and deliver life-saving personal protective equipment to front line protectors.

Alex Jakubowski, executive director at KAHAL, an organization that connects Jewish students studying abroad with experiences in their host communities, told JNS that in February, “KAHAL saw the writing on the wall.”

“Since we have students in China and around the world, we decided to change our whole organization and become a COVID-19 support organization,” he said.

Jakubowski said he was hearing pleas for help over and over again from the same segments of the health care community.

“There is a global shortage of PPE in nursing homes and hospice care. These frontline workers, especially those outside of a hospital setting, are not given equipment by state governments. They are not the first priority. We also learned that this equipment needs to be imported at outrageous prices.”

Utilizing KAHAL’s global network and partnering with other Jewish organizations, a well-oiled procurement, shipment and distribution chain for PPE was set up quickly to assist caregivers at more than 200 Jewish institutions throughout the country — including some in Phoenix — that support not only Jewish workers, but people of all faiths.

Thanks to the initiative, nearly two million pieces of PPE — surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment — have been delivered to local agencies and communities with the goal of reducing the risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus. All of this came even before the “hard launch” of the campaign, as much more is needed.

Kivel Campus of Care, a Jewish assisted-living facility in Phoenix, received masks, gowns and face shields through KAHAL, and Kivel President and CEO Ira Shulman said they’ve been the “major source” of the facility’s supplies.

“They’ve been a lifesaver,” Shulman said. “It means that we can protect our residents and our staff without using the same things over and over again.”

Jakubowski says that $408,000 was raised during its “soft launch” stage, with the official crowdfunding aspect of the campaign having commenced on April 29, Israel’s Independence Day. The campaign goal is currently $3 million.

The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix are supporting the initiative. In his Shabbat message on April 30, Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix President and CEO Marty Haberer announced the launch of the campaign as a tzedakah opportunity for the community.

“Isn’t it amazing and moving to see our tradition of tzedakah, all these thousands of years later, here in the Valley of the Sun through the Pledge to Protect program?” Haberer said in an email. “Certainly puts a smile on my face.”

Perhaps most important are the results of the campaign on the ground, as reported by the agencies themselves that are being assisted during these difficult and frightening times.

According to a representative of the Kline Galland retirement home in Seattle, “we just tested all our residents this weekend and came back with zero positive cases. We all know this is 100% because we have the PPE to treat our patients safely and responsibly. You all are saving lives.” JN

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