When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, no one could have been prepared. But The Jewish Agency for Israel rapidly adapted our programs and operations, following the health and safety guidelines of the dozens of countries where we work.
The coronavirus has had far-reaching effects, driving us to take action on multiple fronts. Read more about our efforts below:
Aliyah Under Difficult Circumstances
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, immigration to Israel has never stopped, in adherence to rules and protocols. Even when Israel shut down Ben Gurion Airport, The Jewish Agency, working closely with the Israeli government, continued to ensure that, as of August 2020, over 7,700 olim (immigrants) arrived safely and had appropriate quarantine housing facilities. They came from 72 countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine during this period. We also have been providing them with care packages, daily check-ins and other crucial assistance.
Despite COVID-19 and many flight limitations, Miriam and her family were able to make Aliyah on the first-ever charter flight from Mexico in August 2020. “Being in our house alone for three and a half months taught us that we’re a strong family, and a family capable of making this change, even during an international health crisis. We are overjoyed to be able to come home to Israel.”
Loan Funds for Jewish Communities in Crisis
In April, The Jewish Agency received an urgent call from the leaders of the Italian Jewish community. We quickly understood other Jewish communities would be suffering as well, and would need our help. We immediately launched the COVID-19 Loan Fund for Communities in Crisis, together with The Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod. We got the word out through our global network, and Jewish communities in 26 countries such as Spain, South Africa and Argentina applied for critical cash-flow assistance to get through the pandemic.
So far, the Loan Fund has provided $9.65 million in no-interest loans to organizations and institutions, which are essential to Jewish continuity in communities outside of the U.S. that would otherwise collapse. Without this help, these communities would be forced to make impossible decisions, such as choosing between funding teachers at Jewish schools, paying the synagogue staff or forgoing security upgrades at Jewish institutions.
Hear Jewish community leaders around the world talk about the critical support the Loan Fund provides:
Looking After Youth At Risk and Their Families
300 professional mentors in our Youth Futures program came up with innovative solutions to stay connected to over 4,000 children and their families when quarantine in Israel was strictly imposed. It was up to these mentors to ensure these kids continued receiving the ongoing emotional and mental support they need so badly, even more so while sheltering in their family homes, what are not always the most nurturing places for them to be. And as soon as restrictions were lifted, Youth Futures activities resumed at our 36 locations throughout Israel, providing the guidance and attention that allow these kids to thrive. Mentors also coordinated special projects to help the children cope with the stresses and emotional impact of COVID-19.
Virtual Jewish & Israel Programs
Going from an in-person approach and activities to virtual ones almost overnight meant we had to get creative and fast. Our network of Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) continued to engage their communities remotely by offering a robust lineup of diverse online programming for all ages. These sessions included Israeli cooking workshops, literature and film discussions, interviews with Israeli celebrities and business leaders, and even a virtual escape room with prizes!
To boost morale, The Jewish Agency was one of the first to organize a live, virtual concert in March with Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel. More than 400,000 people worldwide tuned in for the livestream. A month later, The Jewish Agency celebrated Israel’s Independence Day with a six-hour online program. Highlights included an exclusive performance by American Jewish singer/rapper Matisyahu with Partnership2Gether communities and a global Dance Party with Israel’s #1 radio station, reaching more than 300,000 people around the world.
Caring for Senior Citizens in Amigour Housing
The pandemic left many seniors feeling stressed, scared and alone. Those in assisted-living centers are often the worst off, unless they are living in one of our Amigour residences in Israel. Our staff have been designated essential workers and are ensuring that the 7,000 elderly residents at our 57 subsidized housing communities are healthy – both emotionally and physically – and safe.
To offset loneliness during quarantine when family members were not allowed to visit, Amigour staff planned dozens of social activities, including balcony concerts and dancing outdoors. We did figure out a great workaround for family and friends to visit in a socially distanced way – with a crane that lifted loved ones up to every floor, so residents could see them from their windows and balconies. It was a very emotional day at Amigour, filled with joy during these trying times. See how we adapted our practices to support our programs and dependents in Israel >
Global Roundtable Initiative
In May, we launched a Global Roundtable Initiative with Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to assess the damage caused in Jewish communities and to prepare a plan for the day after to rehabilitate those harshly affected. The first forum included over 30 leaders from major Jewish organizations around the world. Along with our longtime partners, The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod and World Zionist Organization, other participants included the Anti-Defamation League, Joint Distribution Committee, Hillel International, Jewish National Fund and more.
Keeping Jewish Life Strong
“The coronavirus crisis has had dramatic ramifications on worldwide Jewish communities, on community leadership, community resilience… even risks to the very existence of the community. While rehabilitation is expected to be lengthy, this period could actually create opportunities for new ideas and initiatives, perhaps reshaping Jewish life in the post-corona world,” wrote Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog.
The pandemic made it clear that to stay connected, we must engage virtually as well. As part of our role as convener of world Jewry, we are launching JReady, an online resource center for community resilience that will bring together Israelis and Jews from around the world. A global platform, JReady will offer users unique resources and the ability to easily consult experts, give advice to one another and share lessons learned, participate in webinars, post in forums and more, all in one place. We know that unprecedented and new challenges have emerged because of the coronavirus. With JReady, we can support each other and knowledgeably face and address them together.
As we know, the coronavirus crisis is, unfortunately, not over. The Jewish Agency has been there for the Jewish People throughout the pandemic, and we are still here, supporting Jews globally to ensure we stay strong and survive this crisis.
See our immediate response during the hardest and early months of COVID-19: