By Moshe Daniel Levine
Covid-19, the coronavirus, will surely be a defining moment in the lives of many of today’s current students, the most concrete memory of their educational years.
For those of us who serve students, it is time to throw convention out the window in favor of necessary adaptation and innovation.
Not all memories are created equal. The quotidian details of everyday life are easily erased from our minds. For example, I cannot recall what I ate for dinner exactly a month ago. But there are moments – of intense joy, pain, fear, and surprise – the details of which I will never forget. In those moments, the details are painted indelibly on mind, including who was there to help or hurt.
As a Jewish educator dedicated to ensuring that the next generation of students have a connection to Judaism, this is one of those moments to remember. As hundreds of thousands of Jewish students around the country experience their normal lives disrupted by the current pandemic and replaced by social isolation and extreme stress, it is crucial that Judaism play a large and positive role in what will surely be a permanent memory in their lives.
I’m trying to do my small part. Over the past few days, I have set up multiple online classes, attempted to double my writing pace, personally reached out to hundreds of students, and even hosted a humorous and educational video series where I teach a daily and relevant piece of Talmud from my hot tub. Some of this goes beyond my job description and far out of my personal comfort zone. But I also realize the potential impact that a bit of extra work now can have in the years to come.
I can imagine a person joining a synagogue board, giving a donor speech at a Hillel building grand opening ceremony, or explaining the rationale for an endowment made 30 years from now. Better still, I can imagine a couple deciding to raise their children with a strong Jewish education, an individual deciding to take up a new Jewish learning project, or a Jew feeling just a little bit prouder of her identity. Perhaps, when that day comes and they are asked why they made the decision they did, they will reflect on the present moment, when a Jewish communal professional reached out.
This crisis is a call to action for all Jewish professionals and communal leaders. As Rabbi Judah HaNasi famously said before he wrote down the oral Torah, “this is a time to act for God.”
All of us in the organized Jewish community need to innovate and step out of our comfort zones. We need to message everyone in our social and educational circles and ensure that they are holding up. And we must find a way to innovate and transport a Judaism that revolves heavily around in-person social interaction, onto the internet.
That’s why I am so proud of my movement, Hillel International, for pivoting this week to a virtual platform, Hillel @ Home, that strives to meet the educational, spiritual and social needs of Jewish students through remote lectures, classes, hangouts and even Spring Break trips.
Finally, we must ensure that when this pandemic is over, people remember and continue to turn to Judaism, Jewish leaders and their Jewish communities as places of support.
Moshe Daniel Levine is the senior Jewish educator and rabbi at OC Hillel and a Jewish blogger.