Often times, anniversaries call for a celebration. This past week marked a very important anniversary in our world, but this certainly is no time for celebration. It was exactly one year ago today that our staff would all be together working under one roof. The path leading us from normalcy to that day was very short, and I think many of us thought perhaps the return to normalcy would happen just as quickly.
Our last in-person event took place on February 29th. We gathered together for the JCC’s annual fundraiser – A Night In Vegas. Information about COVID-19 was quickly monopolizing the internet and television. Many of the reports were conflicting. I remember taking part in a conference call in which we were told there were only 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and the consensus was we were safe and the flu was more of a threat. How fast things changed.
The day after the JCC fundraiser, I was in route to Indianapolis for a Partnership2Gether meeting. Several participants from Israel were expected to attend. However, less than 12 hours before they were to depart for the United States, the Jewish Agency banned travel. This would mark my first experience with the Zoom culture many of us have been immersed in over the past year, as that is how our friends unable to travel from Israel would end up taking part in the meeting.
Over the next two weeks, staff would gather in my office to watch the Governor’s daily briefings. We didn’t know from one day to the next what would happen. Would we have to close? If so, for how long? Surely this would be contained quickly. We are so much more advanced in technology and medicine than we were during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
When the announcement came that preschools were to close, I immediately went into troubleshooting mode. I had to work with my team to create a strategy that would follow the state recommendations, while still providing a connection for parents and our community. This also meant that our staff would need to adjust to working from home and navigating the new virtual world in which we found ourselves.
Of course, like many businesses, there were serious concerns about how this would impact our budget. Certainly, nobody could see this coming, and we didn’t account for such an anomaly happening. Thank goodness, we were able to apply for the Payroll Protection Program loan that was rolled out to help many businesses, organizations, and their employees stay afloat financially. Like everything else though, people didn’t know what to expect. There was a sense of urgency to be one of the first to apply to ensure we didn’t miss out on the opportunity.
During this process, the Jewish Federations of North America and JCC Association of North America did an outstanding job of helping us navigate the loan process. They also were incredibly beneficial, serving as a portal for Federations to share ideas, challenges, and successes during this time.
In June, our preschool was able to open with limited capacity. Things were very different. Staff were required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Classroom ratios were smaller. Hand sanitizer became the new in-demand office supply.
In addition to preschool, we were able to hold summer camp. For the first time, it was held at Temple Beth Or. This allowed for even more social distancing and proved to be a great space. In fact, it was so wonderful that Camp Shalom will take place at Temple Beth Or once again this summer.
At this point, staff who were able to continue working from home were asked to do so, in an effort to limit the number of people in our building. While working from home certainly has its benefits, there are also downfalls. Parents were now tasked with overseeing children participating in remote learning while also trying to work – sometimes in the same space. Zooms suddenly include cameos from our spouses, children, and pets. And, I’m sure many of us heard the embarrassing (albeit very entertaining) stories of people who couldn’t figure out how to turn off their Zoom filters and were forced to participate in meetings pictured as a potato or cat (if you haven’t seen these, take a few moments and google them!).
I realized very quickly that I needed to expand my home office. I invested in several items that were comparable to what I have at the CJCE, in order to create a similar environment. The good news is I know some of these items were probably things I needed to invest in anyway and will definitely be useful in the future.
By the time fall rolled around, it was clear that things were much more dire than many of us had ever anticipated. Cases of COVID-19 began to surge, and over the coming months we would see a spike in deaths, far surpassing the original estimates released at the beginning of the pandemic. It was around this time that the pandemic really hit home for me.
I suddenly knew of people who had contracted the virus. For some, it was a mild illness; others were hospitalized. Some even died. Several of our staff members lost loved ones to COVID-19. And our entire community suffered a profound loss with the passing of Hyla Weiskind z”l, who worked for the Federation for many years up until her retirement in 2015. This was no longer something people just read about – it was something they were personally experiencing.
Thankfully, we live in a time when medical advances and technology have allowed for a vaccine to be created very quickly. I just happened to turn 65 years old two days after those 65 + were eligible to become vaccinated. I’ve never been so excited to receive a shot (or admit my age).
Now, here we are a year later. I don’t think any of us expected this to last so long. At first, we thought it would affect us for maybe two weeks. Then it became the end of May; then the end of August; then the end of 2020. And now, here we are, looking back on exactly one year since our world changed.
The pandemic is still raging on. However, vaccination rates are on the rise. Many of our staff are in the process of getting vaccinated (or looking forward to March 29th when everyone 16+ can receive the vaccine). I am now looking at how to return to normalcy, recognizing we still have to take care of our physical and mental health, safety, and security. Although none of us can predict what our world will look like one year from now, I remain hopeful.
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