With COVID-19, we now must connect online.
As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Jewish organizations across Metro Vancouver are finding new ways to connect with the public.
Last week, schools and most businesses and places of worship closed their doors to support the provincial government’s directives for new social-distancing policies. For everyone, this change has required the adoption of different ways to address daily needs, like shopping, study and religious practice. It has put increased demand on organizations and businesses to think out of the box when it comes to staying in touch with and supporting their membership, clients and connections. Here’s some of what the community is doing.
New lesson plans
Schools have shifted their classes to online attendance and are creating lesson plans that allow students to study virtually and independently. Some schools, like Richmond Jewish Day School, have sent out private communications to parents, outlining class schedules and continued services. Others are using their websites or other online services to keep families apprised and facilitate the learning curve that students, parents and teachers will inevitably face using the technology.
Students at Vancouver Talmud Torah will have independent study periods and be able to use social media to connect with their teachers and peers. The school is using Google Classroom for study plans and assignments and its website notes that students who are experiencing problems, need to discuss study plans or want to connect with other class members will be able to do so during the teacher’s virtual office hour each day. For families that don’t have a computer available, the school says students will be able to sign out a laptop to use at home (one laptop per family, as inventory is limited).
King David High School’s new multimedia program launched a week ago, and it uses Zoom video services, Moodle and Google Classroom to connect with at-home students. According to KDHS’s website, the school is doing its best to keep schedules and study periods the same as they were prior to the shutdown. It is using classes prior to Passover break (April 3) to test and refine the online structure.
Shalhevet Girls High School is also working hard to keep schedules standardized and reflective of the lesson plans it offers, and students can still connect with one another during the “lunch and shmooze” hour.
Take-out and online
On March 21, the City of Vancouver ordered all in-house restaurant service to cease. Restaurants that provide take-out and delivery services have been permitted to remain open.
Many of Vancouver’s kosher restaurants already provide take-out or delivery services to the public. Omnitsky Kosher, Nava Creative Kosher Cuisine and Maple Grill have enhanced their takeaway and catering services. Some provide service through the DoorDash online app or Uber. Most are urging customers to order with sufficient advance notice.
A staff person at Maple Grill said that ordering ahead is necessary for very large orders, “but we always have take-out between 4 and 8 p.m. for smaller orders.” Patrons should keep in mind that seating – even while waiting for orders – will be closed in all restaurants during this time.
Nava, which has a take-out restaurant at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater, has requested 24-to-48-hour notice on all orders. According to Susie Siegel, although the JCCGV is currently closed, customers can pick up orders by calling or emailing their order ahead of time. Sabra Kosher Bakery also will be open for take-out and larger Passover orders.
Other restaurants that have relied largely on their in-house service have found it challenging to meet the requirements of the city’s precautionary ban. Café FortyOne has announced that it has “made the difficult decision to temporarily close to protect the health and safety of customers and staff.”
Restaurants – including non-kosher establishments like Market Meats – are also accepting orders for Passover and most have cut-off dates for orders. While many kosher restaurants are scheduled to close on April 8 for the week of Passover, customers may wish to call ahead to confirm deadlines for orders and take-out during the current shutdown.
Meanwhile, stores are also struggling. Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery on West 41st Avenue, which has a selection of Judaica, among many other items, is now offering delivery service. And Olive and Wild, on Main Street, which offers a variety of Judaica, Passover items, art and home décor items, is transitioning its services to better serve customers who aren’t able to shop in-person.
Simon Zaidel, who co-owns Olive and Wild with his wife Bella, admitted that the COVID-19 alert hasn’t been easy. The owners have added an online store to their website and Zaidel said patrons can either pick up their orders, have them delivered or, for those outside the Lower Mainland, request delivery by Canada Post. He added that the store is currently providing a discount to offset any delivery costs.
Safeguarding the vulnerable
Jewish Family Services, like many organizations, is shifting its services to meet increased at-home demands. Kassidy Taylor, JFS marketing and communications manager, said the organization realizes that the current health concerns are financially and logistically difficult for people of all ages. Its Emergency Care Campaign allows families and individuals to reach out for help with food, deliveries and other social support.
“It is for anyone who needs a meal or grocery delivery, counseling, emotional support or just a friendly phone visit,” Taylor said. “We are trying to support as many people as possible.”
Taylor added that, for many seniors and other individuals, having to stay at home has cut them off from food banks and various resources that don’t deliver. “We are just trying to fill in the gaps as we can,” she said of JFS’s focus.
Individuals needing assistance can contact JFS through its website or by calling the agency’s hotline, 604-558-5719. As well, the emergency care program is in need of volunteers, and those wishing to donate are welcome to contact JFS as well. “There is a lot of need right now,” Taylor said.
On another front, healthcare facilities have been taking successive steps to address the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 17, Vancouver Coastal Health announced the closure of all adult day centres, such as the L’Chaim Adult Care Centre at the JCCGV, in an effort to protect seniors and healthcare workers from the virus. Care workers are monitoring participants by phone to ensure that medications, food and support are coordinated as necessary through VCH case managers. More information is available by logging onto the Lower Mainland Adult Care Centre Association’s website and clicking on the appropriate care centre’s link.
As of March 17, Vancouver Coastal Health also restricted visitors to Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Weinberg Residence and other care homes to “compassionate visits” that meet specific limited guidelines for continued care and end-of-life support. VCH stresses the rules are a precautionary measure to keep patients and staff protected.
Most of the community’s organizations have instituted changes to address social distancing and other limitations brought about by the outbreak. Links to each one and an overview of temporary changes are accessible through the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s website.
Few Jewish organizations have been as impacted by the call for social distancing than Vancouver’s religious institutions, which have been faced with myriad challenges. Restrictions on attendance (at press time, it was limited to 50 people) and other issues have forced synagogues to rethink how best to both continue regular religious services and provide social and educational support to their members, many of whom are seniors and required to stay at home. It’s also forced organizations across Metro Vancouver to change programs and services for Passover. Most religious institutions have already canceled or transitioned upcoming holiday celebrations to Zoom online services.
On March 21, rabbis from Vancouver Lower Mainland institutions issued a joint statement to congregants outlining the synagogues’ new guidelines for attendance. Many of the congregations have transitioned to online religious services via Zoom video to ensure that their members can stay connected, supported and engaged in religious life.
Congregations Schara Tzedeck, Beth Israel, Temple Sholom and others are providing daily and/or weekly minyanim online, along with classes and “meetings” throughout the day.
Most congregations are also working to fill the gap when it comes to much-needed social interactions for teens and younger members. Synagogues have found ways to both address concerns about halachah and ensure that members struggling with the impact of isolation are supported.
Both Schara Tzedeck and Beth Israel issued new cemetery guidelines earlier this week, calling on members and guests to adhere to practices that help safeguard both the participants and others who may be at risk from exposure to the virus. Cemetery facilities are closed to the general public. Burials are, in most cases, limited to family members, with some allowances to ensure that there will be enough attendees for a minyan so mourners can say Kaddish, and unveilings have been canceled to April 30 at least. Congregants and those interested should contact the synagogues in charge for more information on the revised guidelines.
Helping those in need
Many Jewish organizations are also finding ways to help those most vulnerable get financial aid if needed. The Hebrew Free Loan Association has announced that it will lend up to $2,000 to individuals or families impacted by loss of a job or other economic problems stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. Organizations, like Or Shalom, for example, are accepting donations within its congregation to help those struggling from illness or loss of income.
For the most comprehensive list of community resources and organizations, visit jewishvancouver.com/covid-19-updates.
Jan Lee’s articles and blog posts have been published in B’nai B’rith Magazine, Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism, Times of Israel, as well as a number of business, environmental and travel publications. Her blog can be found at multiculturaljew.polestarpassages.com.