The Jewish community rallied to support isolated individuals through volunteering initiatives this week amid government advice on social distancing to lessen the chances of catching coronavirus.
The United Synagogue set up a helpline operating between 9am and 5pm Monday to Thursday and 9-1pm on Fridays, while several shuls have set up live-streaming for those who cannot get to synagogue to watch and listen to Shabbat services.
The Board of Deputies sent out ‘Can I Help?’ cards for those offering to help others who are self-isolating. The cards are filled out and posted through letterboxes, alerting the occupants to the volunteer’s name, address and what they are offering to do, such as help collect groceries or simply to talk by phone.
The Jewish Volunteering Network said there would be “new opportunities specifically related to Covid-19 such as running errands, food shopping, and collecting medicine for the elderly, vulnerable and lonely”.
At Golders Green Synagogue (GGS), Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski set up a ‘Self-Isolating Support Scheme’ run by the shul’s welfare team.
The synagogue already runs a meal rota to support congregants who have new babies or are sitting shiva, and this will now be expanded, with volunteers phoning regularly to check in with those in isolation, particularly the elderly.
The synagogue said its support scheme had “already resulted in an influx of new volunteers” while the rabbinic team was preparing to deliver sermons, educational programmes and Pesach guidance using both recorded media and live link-ups.
“It’s more important than ever to support those in our community who are isolated or anxious at this difficult time,” said Belovski. “I’m delighted that our volunteers have developed this wonderful initiative to ensure that the pastoral and religious needs of everyone are met, even if they are not able to join community events in person.”
In Leeds, Jewish MP Alex Sobel established a database of local volunteers “to ready our community for quarantine, to help people isolated by the coronavirus outbreak”.
More than 1,200 responded in the appeal to help vulnerable residents get the supplies they need at home, including food, medicine and other essentials.
“The Government isn’t doing enough to ensure that vital supplies make it to vulnerable people,” he said. “So it falls to local community groups to take the initiative. I am delighted that so many people have signed up to do their bit.”
Board president Marie van der Zyl said the Jewish community must “find coping mechanisms to deal with the scale of challenge… [It] has always been resourceful and giving to those both inside and outside our community and will continue to do so. We need to stick together even though we may be physically apart.”
She said she was calling on Deputies to support volunteering, adding: “We all need to dig deep and play our part.”