It has been a frightening time for Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin and her family.
Klein Ronkin, the director of clergy and leadership development for the Essex County Community Organization (ECCO), said she believes she had a case of the coronavirus. “I think I had a fairly mild case, with a significant underlying condition of asthma,” she said.
“It was kind of like I had the flu, with a very bad chest cold,” she said. “On top of that, it was painful to breathe, with pressure in my lungs. I had a sense of breathing through sludge, and extreme fatigue.”
She and her family – husband Jeremy Klein Ronkin, their daughter Uriel, 4½, and their son Raziel, 1½ ‒ all became ill last month. At the time, testing was limited. “Most people that probably had the virus were not confirmed. There was such a shortage of testing,” the rabbi said.
On March 8, Rabbi Klein Ronkin had gone to New York for a close friend’s wedding. “We knew the virus was starting, but it was before everything about social distancing,” she said.
A week after the wedding, “we all just started feeling sick – fevers, coughing, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue,” she recalled. “My kids had fevers.”
For herself and her husband, after their first week of illness, things initially seemed to return to normal, but it actually took “a full two weeks to get to a point where we had energy and were able to function,” she said. Although she said she is feeling “pretty much better,” her husband and daughter are still experiencing “significant breathing issues.”
Although most of the family’s treatment has been done by telemedicine, her daughter’s condition necessitated going to a doctor two weeks ago.
“You know, it’s just really painful to see a person I love looking to me to make things better and watch her suffering. It’s really hard,” Klein Ronkin said.
The family has stayed home in Jamaica Plain, unable to get the asthma medication from a CVS two minutes away. Rabbi Klein Ronkin credited the Jamaica Plain Mutual Aid Society with providing much-needed assistance.
“Someone showed up to bring me medication,” she said. “The community support was so moving, it can be so vital … People brought groceries, medications … really, once people or the community realized we were sick, all sorts of people showed up with help.”
The family was able to celebrate Passover in multiple ways. On the first night, Klein Ronkin held a Zoom Seder with Kavod, a Jewish community led by young Jews in the Greater Boston area dedicated to tikkun olam, the repair of the world, with over 50 people joining. The second night was another virtual Seder with friends who had moved across the country. Each night there was also a kids’ Seder, with her daughter leading the ceremony.
“None of these things we would have been able to do before all of this,” Klein Ronkin said. “At the same time, it was really hard not to be able to be with our elderly parents and our families. We wanted to be sharing our table with all who are hungry.”
With her organization ECCO, she is working to address the effects of the coronavirus crisis ‒ including hunger ‒ among underserved members of the community on the North Shore.
The organization has created an emergency fund, with the goal of raising $25,000. ECCO also is supporting the development of an immigrant worker-owned cooperative, Shine Together, which Klein Ronkin says can deliver food and groceries. Additionally, ECCO is providing emotional support to members of diverse communities affected by the virus, said Klein Ronkin, who described all of these steps as long-term measures to “sow seeds of more justice on the North Shore, where inequality is what we’re fighting.”