(Courtesy of Emunah) COVID-19 brought scary, unprecedented and undesired change. In the midst of everything, Emunah of America is shining a light on the positive changes within the Jewish community—“changemakers.”
Emunah’s changemakers made individual positive impacts by utilizing their innate talents. Each initiative and action is unique, but every changemaker shares one commonality. The personal call of duty.
Dr. Sel Levine, a frontline medical worker in Bergen County, says, “I had to quickly overcome the trepidation of directly caring for hundreds of patients…thankfully, I experienced many lives being saved.” Added Debbie Ross, clinical software analyst, ad hoc community outreach Holy Name Medical Center, “It is personally energizing to involve myself in initiating and supporting change in my community.”
Michelle Sorscher and Abigail Kellner changed lives directly, working as nurses on the frontlines, saving lives throughout the crisis. Despite long hours and difficult work, Kellner still felt, “Every patient of mine has changed my life in some way and I have definitely become a better nurse because of them.” Sorscher went even further. In addition to maintaining her work at her private practice and working in the ICU, she also became the family liaison at Mount Sinai, updating families on their loved ones, connecting people on FaceTime and visiting patients throughout the hospital.
As the pandemic unfolded in New Rochelle, Amy Kirschenbaum immediately sprang into action. Many of the patients were alone and did not have devices to connect with family. Amy understood the urgent nature of this problem and quickly coordinated efforts to secure over 350 iPads and iPhones for six local hospitals. This facilitated communication between patients and their families, in addition to Kirschenbaum providing hundreds of meals to local hospital workers, police officers and firefighters.
It was not just frontline workers who were changing lives. Hannah Schwalbe and Darbie Sokolow coordinated and delivered meals during the height of the pandemic to frontline workers in hospitals. “We felt a sense of duty to make our healthcare heroes’ lives easier by bringing meals to them.”
Similarly, Rachel Shnay also dedicated herself to providing meals to hospital workers and helping support local kosher eateries. Inspired by her jewelry business, Shnay created Feed Our Gems, “because our healthcare heroes are our most treasured gems risking their lives and isolating themselves from their families for months.” Feed Our Gems delivered food to over 100 hospitals between New York City and Boston.
As our entire lives moved online, educators had the challenge of teaching online. Nancy Block, psychologist and dean of The Ramaz School, remarked “as a parent, as a community member and in my professional career, I viewed community-service involvement as a vehicle to develop a sense of purpose and meaning.”
Miriam Blackstein LaTova, a passionate educator, is making a difference in the world of Jewish education. LaTova is currently learning virtually with girls and boys across America to ensure continued learning for all Jewish children. LaTova said, “I have been privileged with many opportunities to educate children and cannot wait to share innovation with each one of you to help more students!”
People having to balance work and children online is very stressful, with everyone needing respite from the constant stress. Nikki Fuchs Sausen of Paint With Me! was able to take her business and passion and give people the opportunity to express their creativity virtually. These online painting events were a way for people to connect. Sausen said, “I feel fortunate to have found a way to bring people together and to give them a way to relax and have fun.” Renowned fitness trainer Shira Kraft knew immediately that her clients were going to need an opportunity to relieve stress. She quickly got to a studio and began to tape classes and made them available on YouTube for her clients and beyond.
As the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded, it was also an opportunity for ingenuity. Morgan Lazarus and Noah Shultz created a digitized platform called Card UP that nonprofits use for their donors to customize and purchase online greeting cards.
Lazarus said, “I was focused on making sure that organizations that were providing vital services were able to maintain their income streams, which were now more crucial than ever.”
The feeling of helplessness that lingered with many of us was put into action by changemaker Jamie Weiss. “I started to think about all the frontline works who were out helping us stay inside that weren’t being recognized. The idea popped in my head to make lawn signs so everyone driving by my house would see them and know how grateful we were. Before I knew it, we had sold and delivered over 500 signs throughout the tri-state area.”
Jonny Bendavid, a community leader and local activist, said, “If you want to change the world, you need to be a vital part of making that change. As we go through life, we face different circumstances that require an attitude of flexibility and willingness to embrace change.” Continued Jonno Rosen, “After seeing how much ‘change potential’ I had inside me, I made it my best effort to do more. Nothing would have been possible without my sister introducing me to Emunah and Kol Hanearim.”
Sarah Schechter, a volunteer extraordinaire, spent three summers as a counselor with Kol Hanearim and was placed in two Emunah homes for at-risk children, Afula and Achuzat Sarah. Schechter said, “With so much time at home I decided I wanted to try to do something that could help my campers in Israel. I started running Zumba programs and parties over Zoom for kids.”
Meyer Zinn, a Holocaust survivor, has witnessed unspeakable horror. As the Emunah changemakers demonstrate, positive change can be brought about by the young and old, frontline heroes and ordinary people. Said Zinn, “While I realize our responsibility to the past, to remember, mourn and honor those who perished, at the same time I also recognize our responsibility to build the future by helping others, especially our children, so they will not be lost.”
Emunah National President Johanna Guttmann Herskowitz shared, “The secret behind the change created by Emunah and the changemakers is that every day these people show up and go for it. We hope the spotlight on local changemakers will inspire others to follow their example.”
Go to www.emunahdinner.org and click on changemakers to contribute to our vital Emunah organization in order to be a changemaker!