For more than two months, the coronavirus has forced residents to stay at home. Temples have been shuttered; Jewish Community Centers closed; day schools have taught kids online; other nonprofits have operated virtually. While area Jews connected with one another in online minyans, classes and lectures, the lack of face-to-face communication has upended our culture. Bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, daily in-person minyans have been on hold. Even the process of mourning changed with funerals and shivas off-limits to extended family and friends. Consolation has come through scheduled Zoom meetings.
As temples and other Jewish organizations begin the process of reopening again, many are examining how they will survive the financial losses brought about by COVID-19. With already dwindling revenue from membership and donations, these nonprofits will have to face a new communal world that does business differently.
And much of the immediate future is unknown. It is still unclear if synagogues will be able to host hundreds of congregants during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – holidays that help generate significant revenue to sustain the congregations throughout the year. Many Jewish overnight and day camps have decided not to open this summer and the impact will not only be felt by campers and parents, but by administrators who may not be able to raise enough funds to open their camps next year. Other nonprofits have seen donations dry up as the economy has come to a standstill.
In short, save for a handful of well-funded Jewish charities in the state, Massachusetts Jewish nonprofits are facing an unprecedented financial crisis. In the past eight weeks, almost 1.1 million people in the Commonwealth have applied for unemployment pay – representing about 29 percent of the pre-pandemic labor force. It might take years to reverse these numbers and for Jewish nonprofits, time is not on their side: services still need to be provided, programs planned, and employees paid.
A strategic plan for the community is needed now and transparency must accompany it. Leaders of local major Jewish charities need to work together to create that plan in order to preserve the foundation of Greater Boston’s Jewish communal life.