East Valley JCC staff members greet families at a drive-through Yom Ha’atzmaut event in April.

When we welcomed 2020, the East Valley Jewish Community Center had a full calendar of plans ready for the East Valley community. From adult education, family activities and interfaith discussions to community events, Israeli film screenings and holiday observances, the EVJCC was prepared to continue our mission of being a center for social, cultural and educational activities to engage families and individuals of all ages through Jewish values.

Then, a few days before the second annual Klezmer Fest — a musical festival featuring a variety of musical acts, workshops and children’s activities that brought hundreds of people to the EVJCC in 2019 — everything came to an abrupt stop. Like the rest of the world, Arizona had to confront the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That week, all our adult and teen programming was put on hold. The Early Childhood Learning Center and Camp Rimon’s spring break camp continued to assist parents who needed care for their children while school was out.

The following week, the ECLC temporarily closed as more details about the coronavirus emerged. During that month, our ECLC staff began creating online content and held virtual meetings with their students over Zoom.

Though all our programming was put on hold, we still had a mission to fulfill. We called members of our community to check in and see if they needed anything. One of our board members and our staff stepped up to do Passover shopping for seniors who weren’t able to get to the store before the holiday. The ECLC held a blood drive with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Chandler West Stake.

Obviously, we weren’t the only ones going through this massive, unprecedented shift. The JCC Association of North America was a huge support during this time. Members of our administrative team attended weekly virtual meetings with JCC colleagues across the country as we learned how to face this pandemic together.

We also received support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, which provided

additional funds to help provide groceries and financial assistance to those in the East Valley who faced new challenges.

Eventually, we began resuming programming — in a virtual format. Our Open Beit Midrash classes, which used to meet in person on Thursdays, moved to Zoom. Most of our participants were new to video conferencing, so we helped them navigate through the learning process.

We learned to adapt to this new normal. Our preschool and camp reopened, with stringent new health and safety protocols in place, including steps to achieve Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR accreditation, which indicates that our facility implements the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention.

We also attempted to maintain a sense of community with drive-through events where our families could pick up their challah for Shabbat while remaining in their cars, as well as a drive-through Yom Ha’atzmaut event for families, who received Israeli flags and holiday treats.

We held a session on Zoom to discuss ways to observe Passover in this unusual year, and during the High Holiday season we had a drive-through shofar blowing. I blew the shofar and shared words of Torah with people who remained safely in their cars.

One silver lining was the ability to have participants from all over the world join our online programs.

As 2020 draws to a close, we can now begin to reflect on how this pandemic has affected our community. We have witnessed extreme hardships, heroism and generosity.

I am appreciative to all of those who have given generously this year, both those who have given their time and those who have donated to our emergency fund and tax credit donations which help us continue our work. One hundred percent of these funds go directly to those who need it most.

As we prepare for 2021, let’s take a lesson from Chanukah and continue to focus on bringing light to any darkness we may face. JN

Rabbi Michael Beyo is the CEO of the East Valley JCC.

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