April 13, 2024
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BergenShulsTogether.com Goes Live as a Comprehensive COVID-19 Resource

The word on the street these days is “life will never be the same.” Moving deeper into the coronavirus era brings new questions and information updates nearly every day. It’s hard to know who to believe, and how to filter out fake news. While it’s too late to be fully proactive, there are great opportunities to feel and be prepared and protected. Also, many would like to know how they can be helpful to others in meaningful ways, while staying within the parameters of safe personal practices. Some are in need of assistance and aren’t sure where to turn, especially since many of the usual assistive functions would previously have been provided by extended family.

Enter BergenShulsTogether.com, just a click or two away. The brainchild of Shulamis Hes and Libi Michelson, BergenShulsTogether.com is their joint effort to offer a comprehensive, user-friendly website, specific to the needs and interests of Bergen County Orthodox residents.

The Jewish Link asked Michelson why this website will be more helpful than others. “I belong to a few Facebook and WhatsApp groups,” she said, “so all this information was out there but not in a central location and it was easy to get overwhelmed. Shulamis reached out to me and said she had been doing the same thing.” They realized they could make the resources stronger and available to a wider network. “People really need help, and it is so hard to find information when you are deep in the thick of a crisis.”

Hes is an electronic services librarian at Yeshiva University, so she is in an ideal position to build a resource website. While Michelson’s original thought was to use her shul bulletin to post information, they decided instead to collaborate and launch a new, dedicated site that would include stronger resources, expand the network and reach more people.

Hes explained, “I discovered PC COVID-19 Taskforce, a comprehensive, dynamic resource hub created by a cadre of rabbis and doctors in Passaic-Clifton. Encouraged by the Passaic initiative, and that of Libi’s, I proceeded to launch a similar hub in our community. Libi and I met via Zoom to discuss our common goals and that’s how it all started!”

The website homepage includes eight tabs, each with links to established or verified global, national or local resources. From there, you can access the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the accepted ultimate authority for COVID information. There, one can engage “Clara,” the interactive tool for self-checking symptoms and getting instructions if people think they need medical attention. The women felt that “it was a comprehensive enough list that if someone was really nervous about how they were feeling, they could find what they need on this page.”

Hes discussed their vetting of the “Give” tab. “We do our best to check every resource on the site, whether it’s giving opportunities, offers of assistance or events. The worst thing is for us to claim accurate and current information, and then do the opposite. I have personally verified several listings. We decided to limit funding to known entities, such as local hospitals and TVAC. Our action items include donating to food pantries and volunteering to deliver groceries. I would love to see an expansion of the Deliver Together service to Bergen County.” Deliver Together is a service started by Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School juniors Maurice Korish and Adam Hollander, currently serving Morris, Essex and Union counties.

One of the unique and innovative tabs on the website is the Torah/Prayer tab. Prepared with obvious sensitivity and inspiration, the tab opens to a comprehensive, but not overwhelming, variety of resources. Some are links to additional websites or podcasts with meaningful spiritual content, or an actual screen you can just read or print. Others give phone or Zoom links for interactive platforms. Especially thoughtful on the Prayer tab, reported Hes, is “an editable list of COVID cholim, maintained by Michael Poppers and Elan Weinreb, who have generously shared their time and knowledge.”

The Assistance tab has three options. Hes explained, “We found that the main issues people are struggling with during this crisis are financial needs, mental health support and food assistance. There are many resources for each category, and many Jewish nonprofit organizations have been providing this assistance for years, but the general population might not have known about it. Now that people’s needs are changing, it is important to highlight the organizations that are already supporting the community, and those that are stepping up to redefine their service to the community.”

Michelson added, “Many people want to be able to help their own shul members.” Giving to the rabbi’s discretionary fund can be a discreet and anonymous way to do so. “Other links are to various organizations that provide financial aid to our community, such as Project Ezrah and Hebrew Free Loan Society.” Also included are government-aid links, making it easy for anyone using the site to apply for them.

Michelson discussed planned additions to the website. “When we find out about events coming up in the community… a Torah study class, a mental health Zoom meeting, a food box distribution,” she said, “we will put that information on the Activities tab and on our Facebook page … in a timely manner.” They plan to keep this tab relevant, removing past events and keeping the information fresh, and will add a calendar to make things more visually appealing.

Initial expenses were generously sponsored by Elie Katz. Michelson and Hes view BergenShulsTogether.com as “your community’s website.” Everyone is invited and encouraged to be a part of it. “If you are detail oriented, tech-savvy or good at writing, you have the skills to help maintain the website,” said Hes, adding, “We’d like to improve on the user-friendliness and navigability, which will require additional modules and funding.” B

She anticipates that once the COVID-19 crisis ends, BergenShulsTogether.com will remain a central hub of resources for the Bergen County Jewish BergenShulsTogethercommunity, with a different focus. “We envision additional sections such as Education Tools, Halacha and Hashavat Ha-Aveida (Lost & Found). Other offerings might include Ask the Techie and Ask the Handyman, and a centralized real-time exchange of information, goods and services—a spinoff of Chesed & Favors WhatsApp groups [started by Dalia Seltzer] with active questions and answers, as well as an archive.”

For information on how you can become involved, visit: www.bergenshulstogether.com.

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