Preparing and delivering with social distancing and safety in mind
By: Karen Schwartz
Pediatric dental resident Dr. Mirissa Price has been working day and night in a Boston emergency room and dental clinic during the coronavirus pandemic, her family quarantined together on the other side of the country.
Last Friday, Price hurried across the river from the Boston-area hospital where she works to Cambridge, Mass., to make it in time to pick up a special package—a Shabbat box, courtesy of Chabad-Lubavitch at Harvard. The box held candle-holders and a Kiddush cup, homemade chicken soup, butternut squash pie, freshly baked challah and printed prayers. She promptly took it home, and had a healthy and much appreciated Shabbat dinner with her puppy, Joey.
“It was a great way to feel a part of that Jewish community again when we can’t all gather at a single table,” said Price, who first got involved with Chabad at Harvard in 2015, when she came to campus as a dental student. “Even just picking up the box and seeing the masked faces of my Harvard Jewish family brought warmth and belonging to my Shabbat.”
At Chabad centers around the world, Chabad emissaries, their children and local volunteers are busy cooking, preparing and delivering Shabbat essentials while strictly observing social-distancing and other safety measures established by local authorities.
In Boston, Rabbi Hirschy and Elkie Zarchi, directors of Chabad of Cambridge, serve not only students and faculty at Harvard University, which is closed at present, but also the broader Cambridge and Somerville communities. Last week, they distributed more than 100 boxes to Jewish residents and expect the program to grow substantially.
“Our center hosts more than 2,000 different students at our Shabbat programs annually,” said Rabbi Zarchi, adding that many are first introduced to a traditional Shabbat experience through Chabad.
That program, like so many others that bring people together, is on pause, but students and community members now have another rich opportunity—to take charge and own their Shabbat experience. It’s an empowering and educational moment, said Zarchi, even if it’s coming for some students earlier than it would have in the past, when they knew they could rely on their community to create Jewish life, at least until graduation. “Now they’re being asked to do it as students,” said Zarchi. “And it’s incredibly inspiring to see.”
Menachem Butler, who works as a program fellow at the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard Law School, signed up last week to receive a Shabbat box. It was a chance to do something as a community and to include new people in the warmth of Shabbat, which he’d experienced so many times over the past five years at the Zarchi dinner table, he said.
The Shabbat boxes enhanced the experience of each person who received one, affirmed Butler. “It was more than just a little food; it was also the feeling—the sense that ‘we’re thinking about you, we are a community, anything you need, we are always here.’ You don’t have to be present right there to experience that closeness.”
People walked and drove to pick up their bags from a safe distance away, and relished the chance to see each other, if only for a minute, he said. “To be a part of something bigger; really, a little thing can go a long way. We just picked it up for a minute, but we went back to our homes, and were able to do our Shabbat and were all able to do it together, even though we weren’t physically present.”
Mitzvah of the Week in Wisconsin
Rabbi Moshe Rapoport, program director at the Peltz Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Mequon, Wis., is running a campaign focused on making every home a sanctuary. Every week for the next six weeks, they’ll be delivering packages tied to a particular mitzvah that can strengthen the sanctity of the home. “Instead of being down that shuls are closed and places of Yiddishkeit are closed, make your home that place,” he said.
This week they focused on Shabbat, giving out candlesticks and candles, challahs and a guidebook. Kashrut is on the list, as are charity and holy books. “The goal is first of all to help people change their focus and to increase their Yiddishkeit,” he said. “There’s never been so many people baking challah, making Kiddush every Friday night.”
Fran Goldner, who with her husband, Mark, has been involved with Mequon’s Chabad since 1994, is usually busy going to services on Friday and Saturday morning, and taking numerous classes the Chabad offers. “Now we’re doing them on Zoom,” she said of her classes. “I still feel very connected to the community. All of my needs are being provided, I’m getting my classes, I’m still connected by phone, and we went for a walk and people were walking, so we got to see people outside.”
She and her husband heard the doorbell ring, and saw a friendly face from their Chabad. On their doorstep was the box that included challah, candlesticks and a booklet to help them celebrate Shabbat. Though she had her own challah already, Goldner noted that it was special to know that the Chabad was reaching out to community members and encouraging them to make their homes a sanctuary.
“It’s amazing, the outreach,” she said. “If you touch one person that one person can touch another, who knows what can happen.”
Shabbat Dropoff in Naples
Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Naples, Fla., with his wife, Etti, has hosted a communal Kiddush every Shabbat since they got the program rolling in 2005. Last week, they had a Shabbat drop-off where 175 members drove by to pick up challah, chicken soup, candles and more. He’s moved classes, Hebrew school, preschool and other learning online, and set up a task force with volunteers to shop for those who can’t.
“We’re trying to cover all bases and work on all cylinders more than ever,” he said.
For their challah drive-by, they handed out bags to community members, many of them making their way outdoors for the first time since lockdowns began. “It was unbelievable, the response,” he said, adding that Chabad is also offering Shabbat kits—meals from beginning to end—for those who need it. It’s a service they provided before the pandemic that’s getting more requests as more people fall on hard times or can’t leave home.
“We want them to know that here at Chabad of Naples, we’re here for the community, we’re here always, especially during the challenging times,” he said. “It lifts people up, it gives people nourishment, physically, spiritually—we’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that Chabad is family. It’s really family.”