Everyone is pretty sick of looking at screens, no matter whether we are watching television, going to school or visiting with friends online. Between winter weather and social distancing guidelines, a lot of Pittsburghers may be feeling trapped in their own homes. As COVID-19 case numbers climbed this winter and hospitals stressed their limits, it became easy to feel discouraged. In this dark time, I want to remind you of all the people who are helping and why we can’t give up now.
Many have heard Jewish Federation leadership and volunteers speak over the years about the importance of the Federation’s Community Campaign in addressing critical needs in our community. Even in normal times, the Campaign helps people facing food insecurity. The Campaign gives seniors the support they need to live a safe, dignified life connected to the Jewish community. The Campaign helps to instill Jewish values in our children and to bring meaning to young adults by connecting them to Jewish life in a way that they find personally fulfilling. The Campaign enables the Federation to work toward full inclusion of people with disabilities, marginalized communities and others who would not be able to participate fully in Jewish Pittsburgh without support.
By giving together, the Community Campaign enables donors to help more people. For example, just in the past year, the Campaign funded Federation’s Jewish Community Security team, and this team secured a new community security grant that will bring much-needed strength to our community’s security. Because of the Campaign, Jewish Federation coordinates efforts among Jewish agencies to make care better and more efficient.
When the pandemic struck worldwide almost a year ago, these needs that Jewish Federation’s donors support did not disappear. On the contrary, COVID-19 and the ensuing economic challenges exacerbated many of the needs Jewish Pittsburgh already had.
With our Community Campaign serving as our bedrock, the Jewish Federation was able to redirect dollars from in-person programming that had been canceled to COVID relief. Based on the strength of the Campaign, some generous donors contributed additional one-time commitments enabling the Jewish Federation to distribute more than $7.5 million for COVID-19 relief efforts since April 2020. This money has addressed brand new needs in health and wellness, emergency funding and food insecurity, physical space needs for proper social distancing, building up capacity at the Jewish agencies on the front lines, and maintaining Jewish identity for people isolated from Jewish life.
The impact of these dollars is not just theoretical. We hear from real people every week about how support from the Jewish Federation has improved their lives.
Take, for example, Ruth Skeegan. As a resident at the Jewish Association on Aging, she faced a challenging time when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. Nationwide, 39% of COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes, according to a December 2020 report on NBC News. Because of Jewish Federation funding, JAA was able to outfit its staff with personal protective equipment, install a state-of-the-art air filtration system and hire the additional staff needed to keep Ruth alive and connected to her daughter, Carol. Ruth visits Carol virtually every day and was even able to celebrate her 100th birthday with a virtual party hosted by JAA staff.
Ruth is just one of tens of thousands of Pittsburghers whose lives have been touched by Jewish Federation donors. People like Kevin, a mostly nonverbal man with intellectual disabilities in group care who received the technology he needed to have virtual family visits while living in his group care home supported by Jewish Residential Services. People like Ron and Julie, who visited Jewish Family and Community Services’ Squirrel Hill Food Pantry for the first time in their lives, to find a caring staff ready to connect them to the help they needed. People like Eli and Tahlia, college students who found new ways to connect virtually to Jewish life on campus through the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center.
Enough great things are happening in Pittsburgh to fill an entire issue of this newspaper. If you feel defeated, if your ears are sore from mask-wearing, or if you just wish you could grab a bite at your favorite restaurant — you are not alone. Our community is stronger together, and every Jewish organization has found innovative ways to continue providing and, in some cases, improving services and programs.
So the next time you think, “What’s the point?” remember Ruth, who got to celebrate her 100th birthday with family thanks to the generosity of others. Continue to practice social distancing. Order takeout from a locally owned restaurant. Please support the Jewish Federation Community Campaign so we can keep saving lives. PJC
Jeffrey Finkelstein is President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.