Bringing People Close
“At a time when restrictions still prevent our Yachad facilitators from bringing community members to programs, we are bringing all programs to them.”
Lag B’Omer, Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and Shavuot, like all Jewish holidays, are typically celebrated in large groups – singing around a bonfire, dancing in the streets of Jerusalem, and enjoying holiday meals and activities together with friends and family.
Over the past several months, Yachad’s Jewish cultural coordinators throughout Israel have developed entirely new strategies for bringing people close, in spite of being unable to gather together in person.
In addition to the online classes, phone calls to residents, and volunteer efforts, several coordinators have also been running mobile Kabbalat Shabbat programs and preparing a variety of short videos about the holidays, the weekly Torah portion and Jewish values to share with residents of the areas in which they work.
Perhaps even more so this year, Israelis particularly appreciated the innovative programming developed by their local Yachad coordinators which connected them to the festivals and to their communities, even as restrictions still limited public gatherings.
Says Pardes Hana’s Yachad coordinator, Tal Brill: “We’ve had to adapt to working differently than before, but in some ways, the current situation has enabled us to reach even more people and have even more of an impact.”
“We have an internal light”
Lag B’Omer featured a range of classes, games and more intimate “virtual bonfires” – evening online gatherings limited to no more than 15 people that included stories about Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and singing – similar to the in-person experiences people typically enjoy on the holiday.
“I want to thank you so much for the wonderful Lag B’Omer program, it really helped us to feel the atmosphere of the holiday at a time when we couldn’t gather around the bonfire,” said Dubia, a resident of Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, adding: “How can we complain about living isolated from one another when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived in a cave for 13 years”!
Tamara, a participant from Rishon LeZion, noted that “although we couldn’t gather physically, we learned that we each have an internal light that we can use to improve ourselves and the world around us.”
A Taste of Jerusalem
Yom Yerushalayim (which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Six-Day War), featured many programs to give people a taste of the day. Activities ranged from dynamic lectures; car parades which shared the communal “Israel spirit”; online and even some in-person concerts keeping with the current restrictions; and a nation-wide virtual tour of Jerusalem, hosted by renowned storyteller Jacky Levy.
Jackie Levy is an Israeli journalist, radio personality and story teller, who focuses on issues of identity, religion and Israeli culture. Truly experiencing Jerusalem would typically require bringing busloads of people from throughout the country to spend a day traveling, touring and enjoying the stories and sites of the city. Instead, Yachad coordinated a virtual tour from their Facebook page which enabled Israelis from throughout the country to the unique flavor of Jerusalem from the comfort of their living rooms.
“Jacky captured our national connection to and passion for Jerusalem through his stories,” according to Chaim Abadi, a participant from Bat Yam. “He brought the city to life and made us all feel as though we were there, and we must preserve our collective memories.”
Relevant and Engaging
Leading up to Shavuot, Yachad hosted interactive online activities and classes for people of all ages. According to Lotan Parchei, Yachad facilitator in the town of Azor, “Typically, we would plan a wide range of activities around the community to appeal to different age groups – young children, teens, adults, individuals and families. In conversations with all of the local community organizations, we decided to work together and plan a large-scale pre-Shavuot event of the highest caliber, with programs for every segment of the community, just as we would typically do in person – but entirely online.”
Activities included a play for pre-schoolers, a craft program for elementary-aged children, a discussion for teens with a young adult who has a compelling story about his own Jewish journey, a family Kahoot game, a cheesecake-baking workshop and participation in Yachad’s nation-wide concert with acclaimed Israeli musician and songwriter Evyatar Banai – all focused on themes related to Shavuot.
Yachad Director Bezalel Safra summarized: “At a time when restrictions still prevent our Yachad facilitators from bringing community members to programs, we managed to bring all the programs to them, connecting people of all ages and interests to the Jewish holidays in ways that are relevant and engaging.”