Be giving. Give tzedakah if you are able to and help those going through a hard time financially. Most shuls have discretionary funds you can contribute to, so your support will go directly to people in your community. “These funds are positioned to serve people who have been doing fine but are suffering now—and no one necessarily knows,” explains Rabbi Adir Posy, national director of the OU’s Karasick Department of Synagogue Initiatives. “This way, people can get help while maintaining their dignity.” If you can, consider upping your support of local institutions. For example, school scholarship funds might be stretched thinner this year. “I’ve heard from so many communities about regular people—who maybe didn’t think of themselves as ba’alei tzedakah before—who have stepped up in a big way and made a real difference,” adds Rabbi Posy.
Be sensitive. Just because the pandemic seems to be winding down, the economic impact is not over for everyone. Certainly there are people still dealing with the financial repercussions: some businesses have closed, others are still struggling to regroup. For example, Rabbi Zisha Novoseller, executive director of EPI Networking, says he worked with a chocolate company that suffered severe losses during the pandemic. “You wouldn’t think a chocolate maker would be impacted by the pandemic—people are still eating chocolate!” he notes. “But their clients are hotels, so their business was decimated.” It’s often not obvious who is suffering.
Be compassionate. Financial hardship can lead directly to other types of challenges. “Problems with parnassah cause marriage strain,” says Rabbi Novoseller. He notes that EPI Networking saw an uptick in crisis management of all types during the pandemic. “Economic difficulty affects mental health,” Rabbi Posy adds, which may have been exacerbated by isolation during lockdowns. Your neighbors may be dealing with challenges even more daunting than the economic fallout. Taking the time to reach out may have a greater impact than you know.
Be a connector. Sometimes all it takes to help someone find a job is the click of a button. You can forward a resume or send someone a link for a job posting. “In these situations, people have to network,” says Rabbi Novoseller. “There’s someone out there who can help them with everything.” That someone might just be you. Keep other people in mind and help make connections.
Be strategic with your spending. When possible, shop locally. Choosing to give your business to small business owners within your community allows them to earn a respectable living and may create more jobs locally, too.
Be united. If you recognize an unmet need in your community, try to partner with an existing organization to address it. Working within the existing communal infrastructure is usually more productive during tough times than creating factions. “When you have achdus, it makes life a lot easier,” says Eli Schlossberg of Baltimore’s Ahavas Yisrael.