Creating ‘Rings of Immunity’ to Combat Fear

As Jewish communal professionals there is no meeting or project more important than connecting with the people we serve.

By Ronnel Conn

A recent PBS NEWSHOUR episode featured Dr. Larry Brilliant, a physician, hippie, and self-proclaimed disease fighter. In the late 1960s, Dr. Brilliant worked with the World Health Organization to eradicate the small pox epidemic impacting India and Bangladesh. The doctors and field workers took an innovative approach to fighting the disease by creating what they called ‘rings of immunity.’ The team traversed India and Bangladesh, providing vaccinations to every single relative of someone who was impacted by the virus. It worked.

Over the past two weeks Westside JCC in Los Angeles has been targeted by two bomb threats, much like JCCs and Jewish institutions across the country. These cowardly acts are designed to instill a sense of fear and apprehension in our participants. I have seen first-hand the adverse effect these hoax threats have on the community we care about.

Unfortunately, the rising tide of anti-Semitism is having a real economic impact on JCCs across the country. In other cities, people are opting to stay home or not enroll in programs because of the perceived threats they feel. It is our job as Jewish communal professionals to act as positive messengers of calm. We must reassure our families that our organizations are safe and that they should feel comfortable walking into our buildings.

Fear is an epidemic. It starts by watching the news, evacuating a building, or talking with a friend. If left to our own thoughts, we will let fear run wild in our minds. In order to alleviate the fear our communities are facing, we must create ‘rings of immunity.’ Pick up the phone, call your members or participants, tell them how much you appreciate their support, reassure them that your facility is safe, and let them know that you are there for them. At this hour, as Jewish communal professionals there is no meeting or project more important than connecting with the people we serve. I encourage every organization and their staffs to reach out to participants directly, have face to face conversations, and remove them from the isolation of fear as we welcome them to the safe space of community.

Ronnel Conn is the Assistant Executive Director of Westside Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles.