As the coronavirus pandemic continues its insidious spread around the globe, Jewish communities everywhere are struggling to deal with the long-term effects of the public health crisis. For some, COVID-19 is a frustrating inconvenience. For others, it is life changing, frightening, and a very real threat. For the Hamilton Jewish Federation, it represents an opportunity to ensure that the community comes together in support of one another. That’s why the community’s central fundraising organization has decided to launch a one-time emergency campaign this fall alongside its Annual Community Campaign. Funds raised will help its frontline agencies provide basic living support, mental health counseling, and tuition subsidies for Jewish education.
In the pandemic’s early days, there were many reasons to be optimistic about the Hamilton Jewish community’s ability to weather the crisis. Federation ran an emergency Passover campaign, which raised an impressive $30,000 in a few short weeks, mobilized staff and volunteers to conduct wellness calls and deliver food packages; Hamilton Jewish Family Services successfully applied for major grants that funded the community’s first kosher meals on wheels program; and the city’s three synagogues seamlessly switched to online services. Most impressive, Shalom Village immediately implemented strict regulations that have kept it COVID-19-free to this day.
None of these measures, however, address what are likely to be the long-term effects of the crisis. Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO, Gustavo Rymberg, said that Federation “had no choice” but to launch a dual fundraising campaign to meet both its regular obligations and an anticipated surge in increased need.
“If the Kosher Food Bank is suddenly overwhelmed by an increase of 50 or more families per month, Federation will provide additional funds to meet the need,” he said, adding that if a Jewish day school sees that parents are withdrawing their children because they’re unable to pay tuition, Federation will provide tuition subsidies.
Community members will not be asked to increase their pledges from last year’s Campaign, but rather top off their annual gift with a one-time emergency donation at whatever amount they feel they can afford. The emergency campaign fundraising goal is $150,000.
“The reality is that Federation does not have reserves over and above what we raise during our regular annual Community Campaign, “said Rymberg. “We hope that the community understands that our beneficiary agencies rely on those funds.”
Much thought went into the decision to run a dual campaign. David Loewith, a long time member of Federation’s Campaign Cabinet, said he hopes people will react positively when canvassed.
“This is a really difficult time for a lot of people. This is where the more fortunate among us really need to step up and help as much as we can,” said Loewith. “That’s what we do as a Federation, to help out the vulnerable in our community.”
Federation has held many emergency campaigns in its nearly 100-year history, but what makes this crisis particularly unsettling is not knowing how long it will last.
“What’s going to happen in the fall, in the winter? Is there going to be a second wave?, said Rymberg. “That’s why it’s important to have an emergency campaign, because we have to be in a position where we can respond immediately.”