Jewish Federation Identifies Problems, Potential Solutions
BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) (Source: Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County Verbatim Advisory) — In a year of unprecedented change and mass uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, findings from an expansive new study commissioned by Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County and Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County indicate increasing financial insecurity and emotional distress. The study also found a desire for continued connection to Jewish life, and the necessity for Jewish organizations and synagogues to quickly adapt to meet the needs of families and individuals of all ages through virtual programming.
The study was conducted by Brandeis University, one of the country’s leading research entities and spanned from Boca Raton to Martin County. The results provided a much-needed look at the impact of the pandemic on the Jewish community. The two local Federations were among 10 across North America that participated in a national study by Brandeis.
Both Federations and their networks of partner agencies quickly pivoted to address the needs of the community’s most vulnerable by creating and enhancing critical services and programs for those facing extreme financial hardship, isolation and other emerging challenges. Demographic studies completed in 2018 showed that the Jewish community of Palm Beach County is among the largest in North America, with a combined 301,000 people living in 147,000 Jewish households, an increase from totals reflected in 2005 studies.
Due to the size of Palm Beach County’s geography and Jewish population, there are two Jewish Federations that serve two service areas. The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County serves the area south to Boynton Beach, north to Martin County, west to Wellington and east to Palm Beach. The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County serves Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Highland Beach.
“The reality is families are worried about paying their rent, isolated seniors haven’t seen anyone including family members in months, and parents are struggling to help their children with school work while scrambling to get their jobs done. It is through the care and generosity of thousands of donors and the work of our partner agencies that we are providing financial support, basic necessities, and a sense of security and connection when people need it most,” shared Michael Hoffman, President and CEO, Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. “As one of the largest, and fastest growing Jewish communities in the country, this data is enabling us to swiftly adapt and respond to so many who need our help.”
Matthew C. Levin, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, added, “As we respond to new, pressing needs, we also continue to sustain our Holocaust survivors, other seniors and those with special needs who rely on us for ongoing assistance as they face additional challenges. We do this with our community partners, through our Federation’s Annual Campaign, Emergency Campaign and matching donations through the Human Services Relief Matching Fund of the Jewish Federation of North America. The data and insights from this COVID-19 Study help us plan and target our aid where it is most needed. Always ready to respond to crisis, whether storm, violence or virus, Federation was built for times like these.”
Key findings of the study are centered around three priorities:
Economic turmoil has put many in the Jewish community into sudden financial hardship.
· Nearly 1 in 3local Jewish adults are in a worse financial situation than before the crisis.
o The 2018 study found that 1 in 5 local Jewish adults were living on the economic edge – before the pandemic exacerbated their needs.
· 2 in 3 are worried about affording basic living expenses
· There has been a significant increase in requests for emergency financial assistance.
· 1 in 5 local Jewish adults has lost their jobs during the pandemic. The income gap widened between affluent and financially insecure segments of the community
· Younger respondents are suffering more stress and anxiety about their future finances compared to older respondents.
What’s Being Done:
· More than $500k has been distributed in financial assistance to hundreds of households directly affected by COVID-19.
· Combatting food insecurity by increasing Meals on Wheels deliveries to food-insecure seniors and Holocaust survivors, and providing families in need with grocery store gift cards and access to food pantries.
· New Jewish Community Career Services launched in West Palm Beach to help the unemployed and underemployed. Online employment workshops and support groups increased in South Palm Beach County.
Partners leadingthese efforts includeRuth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, Alpert Jewish Family Service, Adele Loeb and Les Nackman Meals on Wheels Program at Rales Jewish Family Services in Boca Raton, Kramer Senior Services via MorseLife in West Palm Beach, Jacobson Family Food Pantry in South Palm Beach County, and the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation, in partnership with Hands on Tzedakah, which raised $75,000 for the Pantry through challenge grants
Growing fear, anxiety, trauma and social isolation are causingemotional distress and worsening hardships for people in vulnerable situations, including single parents, young families, seniors and people with disabilities. Respondents cited isolation, disruption and emotional difficulties as “the biggest personal impact” of the crisis.
· Nearly 50% of those age 75 and older reported loneliness with negative emotional effects of social isolation.
· Approximately one-third of adults reported emotional or mental stress to the extent they found it is impacting their daily lives.
· Upwards of 80 percent of employed respondents in the Palm Beaches said they experienced more work stress, with 48% worried about losing their jobs. In South Palm Beach County, 65 percent said they experienced more work stress, with 27% worried about losing their jobs.
· Parents experienced increased stress as they try to balance virtual learning and full-time jobs.
What’s Being Done
• Virtual Counseling: More than 1,500peoplehave participated in emotional support, mental health and counseling groups with Federation partners through telehealth services.
• More than 11,000 monthly check-in calls and visits have been conducted to care for the lonely and isolated.
• Hundreds of children, including those with special needs, are participating in Jewish programs at JCCs, Jewish day schools and other centers to stay connected with one another and their Jewish values, while also allowing parents to focus on their jobs.
• Adults with developmental disabilities received virtual daily vocational programming, day training for those living in group homes, coordination of FaceTime calls with long-distance family members, and approximately 50% of clients in the Jewish Association for Residential Care Community Works program have now returned to their place of employment.
Partners empowering this work include Alpert JFS in West Palm Beach; Rales JFS in Boca, including its expanded partnership with Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine; Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC); Levin Jewish Residential and Family Service; The Adolf and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in South Palm Beach County and its Helene and Roy Schwedelsohn Special Needs Department; Schwedelsohn Sunday Scene program; and The Marlene Forkas Camp Kavod program collaborated with We Rock The Spectrum in Boca Raton.
OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO JEWISH LIFE
More than ever, people are forced to make incredibly difficult choices about participating in their Jewish community as they focus limited time and money on providing basics for their families.
· 3 in 4 respondents say they have benefited from participating in virtual Jewish programs offered by Federations, synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
· 2 in 3 respondents who have been regularly participating in online Jewish life during the pandemic say that Judaism has helped them cope.
· An estimated 65% of respondents said they participated in online religious services as well as a virtual Passover Seder.
What’s Being Done
· 1 in 3 children received a scholarship to participate in Mandel JCC distance learning programs in Boynton Beach and Palm Beach Gardens due to the pandemic.
- Dramatic increase in virtual community programming with more than 220 films provided free of charge, plus author series, book club, lectures and a summer music series.
- Virtual weekly Shabbat and high holiday services and programing throughout the county including Facebook Lives, Zooms and more, serving as a critical link to maintain Jewish connections in the absence of in-person activities.
- Nearly 3,000 holiday meals and necessities were delivered by hundreds of volunteers to food-insecure families, and 100+ individuals in treatment centers received kosher meals and Passover Seder kits.
- Thousands of people participate in Jewish virtual programming each week throughout the county.
Partners empowering this work include The Judy Levis Markoff Boca Raton Jewish Film Festival, The Phyllis and Harvey Sandler Center and its “Sandler at Home” virtual programs, Mandel JCC, The Jewish Recovery Center in collaboration with Rales JFS Cares, and PJ Library.
Both Federations have been working with Jewish and secular organizations, philanthropists, community partners, programmatic innovators and policymakers to utilize the study results and other feedback in adapting service to most effectively meet the rapidly evolving needs of the local Jewish population.
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