As Pesach began Wednesday evening throughout a world suffering from a pandemic, a night truly like no other was celebrated at one of the largest field hospitals set up worldwide to treat a surge of patients created by the coronavirus.
For the 110 Jews who would spend the holiday at the Javits Convention Center field hospital, their Pesach was provided by college students from the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning on Campus Initiative (OU-JLIC), who spent the days leading up to the holiday fundraising, procuring and arranging for matzah, kosher for Pesach foods, grape juice, siddurim, Haggadahs and more.
The Passover initiative was a partnership between OU-JLIC and several other organizations.
New York’s first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed on March 1. Since then, the numbers have grown more than 250,000 people in the tri-state area, with thousands of deceased. The Jewish communities in the New York area have been significantly affected as well. To combat community-spread and slow the growth of the virus and a collapse of the health-care system, local and state governments have issued stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines and quarantines. In addition, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and other groups have put together field hospitals to treat the growing influx of patients in the area.
The students working on this initiative are part of OU-JLIC’s “Killing COVID with Kindness” global project. They worked with OU-JLIC Torah Educator Rabbi Joe Wolfson, an OU campus educator at New York University. The mission of the project is to facilitate chesed opportunities for college students during this fragile time when so many people are needy. OU-JLIC educators, Margot Botwinick at IDC-Herzliya (Israel) and Shiffy Friedman at Columbia University in Manhattan are also spearheading projects with their students.
“Seeking meaning, community and opportunities to help their brethren, our students in have attempted to make an impact on their community in New York throughout this period of uncertainty, and we are extremely proud, not only their impact for these patients, but for all those they are helping,” said OU-JLIC Executive Director Rabbi Ilan Haber.
“These are extraordinary times, and our OU-JLIC students and staff are extraordinary people,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “Perhaps what is most beautiful is that the students are spending time that otherwise could have been spent in the safety of their homes to work together to help their fellow Jews in need.”
“Kol Yisrael Areivim Ze La’Zeh,” said OU President Moishe Bane. “Each and every one of us is responsible for another and in a time of uncertainty, these students and their actions are not only significant on their own but serve as a beacon for hope of the next generation of Jewish leaders helping to take care of our most vulnerable.”