One sure takeaway of all this is that Yidden will do for one another in a way that no other nation could ever dream.
here’s a telecommunications company here in the UK owned by serial entrepreneur Richard Branson called Virgin Media. Once, when advertising their latest broadband product, they coined a new motto: “faster, faster, faster”.
As the Coronavirus arrived on these shores and the community’s answer to it accelerated in response, that’s how I felt. The slew of calls, texts, messages and emails went from a trickle to a flood in a matter of hours as the community mobilized to cope with a whole new set of challenges.
Almost overnight, following a series of late night crisis meetings that brought together Kehilla lay leaders, rabbonim, Hatzola and volunteers, a new service was born. The newly formed Gateshead Kehilla Coronavirus Support launched a phone line to serve anyone self-isolating or in quarantine. Users can call, leave a message stating their need, and one of around 100 volunteers marshalled on a dedicated messaging group are poised to respond.
Barely a day or two old, Erev Shabbos hit the new service. As over 40 families in the Kehilla were already self-isolating or quarantined, the calls came in thick and fast. For food shopping, for prescriptions, for medication, for errands, for pre-Pesach shopping – you name it.
Since our almost two-year-old son had developed a mild fever on Wednesday we were advised by our doctor to hunker down and batten down the hatches. The new service became our lifeline as we asked for all our Shabbos supplies to be shopped and delivered, from soup to nuts. When my wife decided that a new trampoline would help see us through, a volunteer came by to fetch my credit card and returned an hour later, depositing the large box at our door and quickly retreating away from our condemned abode.
All day Friday the line was inundated with requests. Volunteers responded royally, racing round town, delivering everything anybody needed, right down to Parsha sheets, filling each and every request with care and precision. As Shabbos inched closer, a message came through – a volunteer had approached the Rosh Yeshiva R’ Avrohom Gurwicz for a recorded message and it was uploaded to the phone line. I dialled in an hour before Shabbos and heard the steady, reassuring voice of the Rosh Yeshiva, may he live and be well, providing timeless perspective and wishing everyone Gut Shabbos.
And then, as houses across the Jewish world prepared to spend Shabbos without Shuls, kiddushim, chavrusas or shiurim, serenity descended. The messages ceased, the phones went quiet and ‘vayinofash’ - Klal Yisroel stopped. They stopped to accept the arrival of Shabbos, a veritable cocoon of serenity and of feeling at One with Hashem. The day designed to remind us weekly that Hashem created the world and all that’s in it arrived, and never has its message resounded more clearly than this past Shabbos. During the seudos there was ample time to reflect on the week, trying to impart a Torah-dike perspective on the madness that has gripped planet Earth.
And as my father in law always says, everything can be found in the weekly parsha. For me, it was right there, staring out at me in the opening pasuk. “Vayakel Moshe es kol adas Bnei Yisroel vayomer aleihem zeh hadovor asher tziva Hashem. Listen to this creative Chidushei Harim: Vayakel – the gathering together, positive collaboration and achdus of Yidden is exactly “asher tziva Hashem”. Helping and caring for one another is precisely what Hashem wants, what He desires and what He treasures.
We will be learning many, many lessons from this crisis and its ripples will be felt for years to come. But if there’s anything we can take from it already now, it’s that Yidden will do for one another in a way that no other nation could ever dream.
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