“While life’s not so grim for every college student, it would be easy to feel sorry for yourself. Yet so many students have recognized while they cannot change their situation, there are so many who currently need and can be helped.”
Imagine trying to make Pesach for the first time, while stuck on an empty college campus, spending the Seder alone, figuring out how your new virtual class schedule will work (and if you can continue your research with the labs closed), plus may of the same stressors we’re all currently experiencing – ill family member/friend(s), lost income and cabin fever. No (or little dating), uncertainty as to summer internships, and if you are a junior, how do you apply to graduate schools without being able to take your standardized tests? For seniors, there’s uncertainty if you’ll be able to graduate on time, at best with no commencement ceremony and missing out on all your goodbyes, and then what? Will your job still be there for you, or if you were looking for a job, how will you find one in the current market? While life’s not so grim for every college student, it would be easy to feel sorry for yourself. Yet so many students have recognized while they cannot change their situation, there are so many who currently need and can be helped – whether a lonely senior or special needs individual in need of a friend, or grocery shopping for someone immunocompromised.
OU-JLIC prides itself on fostering leadership traits within our students, and we have seen true leadership from our students with chessed initiatives springing up on many campuses with guidance from the OU-JLIC educators. Below you will find testimonials from 4 NYU students who through Rabbi Joe Wolfson (OU-JLIC educator at NYU) have volunteered their time to help the needy.
COVID-19 can be a lonely, isolating time for some of us, and I believe one of the best ways to fight that is through human connection. When I signed up for Yachad’s buddy program, I thought I’d be helping someone by giving them a person to talk to and connect with. But what I got out of it was a friend, someone for me to connect with and build a friendship with. The buddy program has given me a true friend, who cares about me just as much as I care about her.
This past week I’ve been making sure to call Joe, an older member of our community who has no other family to check up on him. Joe regularly attends classes at the Bronfman Center and he was really upset that these classes would not be available to him for the rest of the semester. Joe has no computer or internet access in his home, so I have been calling Joe during many zoom shiurim so that he could listen in with the students he loves. This has been a really difficult time for Joe because he is alone in his apartment with virtually nothing to do. I am really glad I have been able to make a small difference in Joe’s life during this time.
In addition to calling Joe, I put together a google doc for students who wish to contact Joe so that we can make sure he doesn’t go too long without anyone checking in him.
On Tuesday I volunteered with Met Council at the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League. This center ordinarily functions as a place for the elderly to eat a warm meal and find community, but it is now being used as a storage place for DoorDash and Uber workers to pick up non-perishable kosher food for seniors in the area funded by the New York State Office of Emergency Management. I had the simple task of managing the deliveries by marking how many boxes each courier took for delivery.
On Friday I volunteered to deliver boxes of food from a Met Council warehouse in Brooklyn to homes in Far Rockaway. In the end they only needed me to make one delivery but the woman who received the box seemed grateful for it.
People often frame volunteering as fun, exciting or meaningful, but those who have spent time volunteering know that it can often be boring by nature and lack any mission-critical feeling. And maybe that’s the point – you’re doing something that other people are unable or unwilling to do, so you need to just show up and do whatever is needed in that moment. When it comes to a crisis, everything is critical and you wouldn’t be there if it didn’t need to be done. We have countless examples of this spirit in our tradition – “emor me’at v’aseh harbeh,” “na’aseh v’nishma,” etc. – sometimes you just need to show up, even when it means entering numbers into a spreadsheet or driving long distances to deliver one box.
This week, I started volunteering with the DOROT Caring Calls program. On Tuesday, I had a great conversation with the lovely woman I was matched with. We talked about her late husband, who was an alum of NYU, our hobbies, our favorite at-home exercise routines, and her black cat, Captain. The half an hour flew by, and I’ve been thinking of fun topics for next week. I’ve always loved talking with/working with seniors, but this was the first time I did so over the phone. This is so incredibly easy and I highly recommend this initiative.
Social distancing should not mean social isolation! 🙂