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Petaluma's Inclusive Center for Jewish Life

Helping Our B'nai Israel Jewish Community Through the Covid-19 Pandemic

06/02/2020 07:17:12 PM


Stuart Nissenbaum, BIJC President

Covid-19 has shaken our world. Everyone of us has felt the ripple effects as this disease has taken so many lives and livelihoods. Together, we are facing a truly unprecedented situation. It is my hope that each member of our community is staying safe, healthy, and getting through these trying times.

During this time, I wanted to reach out and update you on how B’nai Israel has assessed, convened and realigned itself to a “new normal”- one that no one can yet imagine. The term new normal, itself, is so strange and I pray that we never accept it as such. Because I believe…

  • It is not normal for multiple family members, sometimes several generations to die within days of each other
  • It is not normal for burials to take place without loved ones present
  • It is not normal for our Shabbat services to be virtual rather than to gather as community in our synagogue
  • It is not normal for our extended families to have a Passover seder on Zoom
  • It is not normal for our synagogues, JCC’s and Jewish agencies to lay off or furlough thousands of employees

These past few months have turned out to be a test for our Jewish Center. Do we have the ability to rapidly re-create our way of doing business? The short answer is: YES.

Within days of the closure, B’nai Israel moved its Shabbat services onto Zoom. A typical Zoom service has seen 25-30 members join virtually as our Rabbi leads us in prayer and guides us towards healing. Rabbi Feldman has channeled FDR’s fireside chat, where each Tuesday morning he hosts an open forum so that members can discuss how they are coping with the changes brought on by Covid-19, and Wednesday evenings are set aside for virtual Adult Education classes. Our educators also moved our religious and pre-school classes to Zoom and have maintained constant contact with our children and their families. And several members have conducted Zoom cooking classes each Wednesday afternoon.

We know that the Covid-19 pandemic will eventually come to a pause and the economy will reboot itself, as will BIJC. But before we even think of re-opening, we must assess the damage that this pandemic has caused our community. Who has lost their job, business, retirement and God forbid, their life? Who has gotten sick or needs immediate assistance? Who has gone from a two-family income to a single family or zero income? Whose parents can no longer assist in the financial and/or physical needs of their children or grandchildren. And who cannot continue to pay their membership dues or re-join BIJC for 2020/2021.

Many of you attended our Annual Membership meeting on May 17th and heard me discuss the effects that Covid-19 is having and will continue to have on our Jewish Center. This year’s budget and the budget that was passed for the upcoming year will see a major loss of revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We estimate the shortfall to be approximately $90,000. Several of our fundraising events have been postponed. Our annual golf tournament which raised over $27,000 last year had to be postponed and will likely not be rescheduled until late fall or spring. Our Bidding for Good auction raised over $20,000 last year and also needed to be postponed as we were unable to go out in the community to solicit donations from local businesses. Although our High Holiday Appeal begins in late summer with mention in our newsletter, it is the appeal from the bimah on Yom Kippur that helps fund a good portion of our operating expenses. Yet this year our congregation may not be praying together in our building and there will be no opportunity for an appeal from the bimah. There is nothing more powerful than a meaningful address to the congregation followed by an ask and then a call to action for everyone to support our Center.

We are now approaching the end of our fiscal year and for the most part we have been in quarantine since mid-March. Most certainly, we won’t go back to any semblance of business as usual until the end of summer. Our Gan Israel Pre-School has been closed for almost three months and it appears that we will not be re-opening for a summer session. More lost revenue. Many Gan Israel families have prepaid their summer tuition and we are in the process of refunding over $20,000 in tuition.

No matter what the outcome of this year and next, the work of B’nai Israel Jewish Center is important and must continue. What will be the final cost to do that work, what employees need to be kept on, all the insurance, building maintenance, office expenses….the list goes on and needs to be considered when we look at the overall cost of running our Center. While we have somehow managed through the initial stages of Covid—19 lockdown, we are now bracing for the ongoing effects of the epidemic. B’nai Israel has faced many difficult situations in the past and we are adept at facing hardships with incredible resiliency, creativity and care. We know how to turn sorrow into joy and face fear with confidence and as a community we will come together to not only survive but to return stronger than ever.

If you have been so fortunate as to have escaped the personal financial losses associated with Covid-19, I am asking you to join me in making a difference today when it matters more than ever. Our staff and Board of Directors need your help to continue doing the good work that we do for you and for our community. Please carefully consider making your donation and give generously so that the doors to our beloved 155-year-old institution can remain open in good times and bad.

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Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783