In the 37 years that the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Toronto (NCJWC Toronto) has run its annual Passover food drive, the event has gone from supporting a small group of financially vulnerable people in the local Jewish community to around 2,000 boxes of food that were prepared for last year’s drive.
This year was shaping up to be much the same as last, said Eva Karpati, president of the NCJWC Toronto. The preparation for the drive had started months ago, and everything was in place for the big day: the volunteers, the logistics, it was all coordinated. And then the coronavirus hit.
“All of a sudden, as in the rest of the world, we’ve been hit with this crisis, and we were suddenly faced with, ‘how do we ensure the safety of the community?’ That is the volunteers, as well as the recipients. This was a huge concern for us,” Karpati said. “We’re all volunteers, and we’re suddenly faced with this huge task of making sure we meet health requirements. And we’re really at the point of having to dismantle what we’ve been preparing for months because of feeling we might not meet safety needs and health needs.”
On March 16, however, the UJA Federation of the Greater Toronto Area heard about the struggles of the food drive, and lent it their support. Karpati said they stepped up immediately as soon as they caught wind of the situation, offering to help with the logistics of packing and delivering the boxes for 3,000 people.
“They’ve been remarkable and fabulous,” Karpati said. She also added that the need for the Passover food drive is even higher this year than usual because of the isolation necessitated by the pandemic.
“This gesture is not only something physical, but it’s also an emotional tie in and a sense of reaching out with kindness and caring. Each parcel is so profound on many levels,” she said. “We’ve always believed this is such a great showcase of what the Jewish community is capable of and does for each other. And this just confirms and re-affirms our belief that things can happen despite crises … that the community comes together, especially in times of greater need.”
For more proof that the community comes together in times of crisis, one need only look online, where Zack Babins of Toronto started a Facebook group called “KAVOD-19: Toronto Jewish Community Response to COVID-19.” As of March 19, the group had nearly 6,000 members. Babins got the idea when he saw a similar group geared toward a broader Toronto response, and realized a Jewish-specific group would be valuable.
“The Jewish community has needs, that the larger Toronto community doesn’t. You can scroll through some of the posts and see a lot of them have to do with kosher food and where to find it these days, especially kosher meat. We also have a lot of people who are picking up supplies for elderly people and Holocaust survivors, which is not something that would get as much attention, I think, on a larger city-wide group,” he said. “So, the Jewish community does have needs that are not always fully addressed with a one size fits all approach.”
Based on a perusal of the group page, it has been instrumental in connecting people in need with people who can help, providing information and resources for people stuck at home with kids or other dependents and just generally fostering a sense of goodwill and connection among the Toronto Jewish community.
For example, people have made posts about tutoring for students at home, sending birthday cards to kids who will be celebrating under quarantine and asking for names to include in the blessing for good health. There are also countless posts of people asking for extra food or supplies, and others with too much offering to share, and even a post on behalf of UJA asking for volunteers to help with the Passover food drive.
“The resilience of the Jewish community to turn around in this time of crisis and really come together in a big, big way, it’s just astounding,” Babins said. “It’s really reinforced my belief that we’re going to get through this. We’re going to be stronger for it. It’s going to hurt sometimes. But we will get through this and we will strive once again.”