While the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, Yeshiva University, NCSY and many other establishments and organizations in the Jewish community have made the move to virtual programming in order to continue operating while following social distancing guidelines.
After becoming the first university in the US to have a student test positive for the novel coronavirus, YU recently finished its first week of fully online studies.
Within 10 days of the university's first notice, almost 1,700 classes went online. YU has worked with over 40 affiliate schools in Israel on educational continuity for hundreds of students who are part of the S. Daniel Abraham Israel program. Over 1,500 personnel are now working via remote access as well.
While physical classrooms at the university remain closed, the Academic Deans, Dean of Students, Head of Residence Life and Resident Advisors have been working to make sure that students' needs are met. YU's health and counseling centers remain open for those need of assistance. The career center, student finance and the registrars' offices are also open. Students who have remained on campus have received meals and care packages.
Zoom classes, pre-Shabbat community events and student club gatherings keep everyone connected while following social distancing guidelines.
In a letter sent to students, faculty and staff on Friday, YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman explained that the university's rabbinic leadership has guided local rabbis and communities with guidance on issues caused by the coronavirus outbreak, including social distancing for Shabbat, daily prayer, weddings, funerals, mourning and bar and bat mitzvahs.
Berman stressed that throughout the outbreak, he has been "simply overawed by the profound acts of kindness and depth of religious character" by YU students.
"They have consistently and impressively responded to this crisis with our values: from reaching out to local public schools with offers of assistance, to immediately signing up to complete the study of the entire corpus of our ancient Jewish texts to add spiritual merit to help heal a wounded world," wrote Berman. "They are our future and why we are here."
YUTorah, an online platform hosting hundreds of classes on Jewish religious topics, has been hosting live online classes during the coronavirus outbreak, including classes to help Jews around the world prepare for the upcoming Passover holiday.
Dovid Bashevkin, the Director of Education at the Orthodox Union's NCSY youth movement, embraced the need for virtual programming as an opportunity.
"Geographic boundaries that once separated regions, cities, clubs, or coffee shops across the country have now all become closer," wrote Bashevkin in an email. "We're all online, virtually meeting, and building a collective raft of inspiration to help us survive and thrive even in these troubled waters."
Bashevkin explained that a Challah Bake in Portland can now have a Floridian participant, while a Denver NCSY gathering can include New Jersey teens.
"One of the big changes in this new virtual world is the sheer amount of programming," wrote Bashevkin. "Everything, in a way, can be accessible by everyone. NCSY, of course, thrives on the local relationships we build--day after day--but this virtual world has provided new opportunities for accessibility."
Every week, NCSY will be sharing a snapshot of NCSY activities and opportunities. "Of course, we can't cover everything, but in each Zoom room, Google Hangout, Facebook Live, or Instagram Story, the magic and inspiration of NCSY continues. And we want to share it with you. Think of it as your raft through this journey," explained Bashevkin.
Last week, NCSY organized 154 events with 1,779 participants. Activities included a "virtual challah bake" with Meira Spivak, Northern District Manager and Oregon Director, and "Inspirational Flash Mob" with Charlie Harary and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, among others. Further activities will be announced on NCSY's social media accounts.
NCSY will be providing resources in the coming days to staff, advisors, teens and parents to help them sustain their emotional well being.
On Wednesday, NCSY's National Board will carry out an online program with interactive games, prizes and teen-led inspiration.