Federation coordinates response to COVID-19
Photo: Courtesy Mesorah High School for Girls
A Mesorah High School for Girls student in her virtual English class.

Events canceled, synagogues and schools close

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

This story was updated Thursday, March 19 at 3:30 p.m.

As it became clear that Dallas would become fully immersed in the coronavirus outbreak, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas formed a Health Crisis Management Team (HCT) Thursday morning March 12. The HCT is comprised of agency heads delivering services to the Jewish community’s vulnerable populations (seniors, homebound, those living in communal residential settings, the JCC, Jewish day schools and synagogues.) By the end of the day, the Federation had posted a website, https://jewishdallas.org/coronavirus-covid-19. There you will find cancellations, important notices from community agencies as well as information from the CDC and other resources for dealing with the virus that causes COVID-19. The HCT meets daily, and Federation Board Chair A.J. Rosmarin and Federation President & CEO Mariam Shpeen Feist have sent frequent updates to the community reporting significant developments.

On Tuesday evening, the Federation released the Community Health Crisis Needs Intake Form (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dallascovidneeds) to help identify people that are homebound and impacted by the coronavirus who need help. The Federation is reviewing the requests three times a day and a member of its professional team will make contact.

In addition, the Federation is collecting gift cards to help those most in need. Initially intended as a supply drive that included personal items and non-perishable foods, now only gift cards will be accepted.

Suggested gift cards include Kosher Palate, Milk and Honey, Amazon, Walmart, Tom Thumb, Walgreens, CVS. Gift cards can be dropped off at the JCC guard gate ONLY, Monday – Friday between 9 am – 5 pm. Gift cards can also be purchased online, The Federation asks that purchase confirmation be emailed to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas at giftcards@jewishdallas.org.

Jewish organizations respond quickly

Jewish agencies acted swiftly when it became clear that North Texas like the rest of the United States would be under siege by the virus. Here is a rundown of some of the actions various organizations have taken over the last week.

Synagogues

Every Reform and Conservative synagogue and most of the Orthodox synagogues canceled Shabbat services around the Metroplex March 13-14. Synagogues quickly pivoted to online engagement (see story Page 4). The Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas communicated these changes to their respective congregations in an email signed by 23 Dallas-area rabbis.

By Tuesday, every synagogue had canceled services for the next couple of weekends.

The Legacy Senior Communities

Legacy Senior Communities President & CEO Melissa Orth, explained to the TJP that early last week the Legacy had begun putting measures in place to protect its residents. 

No outside visits from family members unless critical to the health and well-being of the resident or at end of life.

No communal dining in Independent Living or Assisted Living- residents are eating meals in their 

Residents’ temperatures are being taken twice per day.

Residents who have traveled in the past two weeks are being asked to self-quarantine.

All group activities of greater than 10 people have been suspended, including religious services.

Employees are also having their temperatures monitored upon arriving every day and leaving every day. 

All people on campus are required to sign in through The Legacy’s visitor management system. The system asks screening questions and requires people to clean their hands with sanitizers as well as take and log their temperatures.

On Sunday, when she spoke with the TJP, Orth said she is keeping in touch with peers locally and nationally. “What we are doing seems inline in comparison,” she said.

Orth said The Legacy’s biggest need right now is N95 masks. Every time they put an order in it gets canceled.

“If anyone has a connection to get N95 masks for our community” that would help she said.

Orth also encouraged people to reach out to their friends who live at The Legacy by phone to say hello and prevent loneliness.

Jewish Family Service of Dallas

On Tuesday, March 17, Jewish Family service closed it building for clients and staff to stem the spread of the coronavirus. “Amid growing concerns of community spread of the COVID-19 virus, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations out of our physical locations and will remain closed until we evaluate that it is safe to reopen. ” wrote JFS CEO Cathy Barker and Board Chair Michael Kaufman.

On Thursday, March 19, JFS announced that they learned there had been some exposure to COVID-19 at the JFS building at Arapaho and Montfort.

“Late on Tuesday, we were informed that our facility may have been exposed to the virus in the last few days, meaning that potentially our staff and volunteers were also exposed. (NOTE: Those who had the potential to be exposed have already been notified by our staff.) In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines we have been provided, closing and cleaning the facility was our only reasonable alternative,” wrote Cathy Barker in an email to the Jewish community.

The Food Pantry will not be open while the building is closed.

However, before closing the building, JFS distributed three-and-a-half weeks worth of food to homebound seniors in need.

JFS programs that are closed include the PLAN Clubhouse (until further notice) and the Resale Shop (at least through this week).

Volunteer services are suspended as well until JFS facilities reopen. 

Clinicians and other direct service providers are in touch with their clients via phone.

JFS Community Chaplain Rabbi Howard Wolk is available by phone at 469-206-1681.

The intake line is open at 972-437-9950, ext. 340.

Jewish Family Services of Fort Worth

JFS closed its daily senior program at least through March 23. Case management services will be provided by telephone. Case Management services will be provided by telephone. Counseling appointments for current patients will be done in person, via telephone or via computer depending on individual situations. New counseling patients will be placed on a temporary waitlist. 

“The health and safety of our community is our top priority.As a social service agency that works with vulnerable populations, including our older adults who are most at risk, we are adapting our services and reviewing alternative strategies to continue assisting those who depend on us,” said Dr. Carole Rogers, JFS executive director.

Aaron Family Jewish Community Center

The Aaron Family Jewish Community Center closed Friday afternoon with the hope to reopen March 21 but decided Tuesday it would remain closed through March 28 with the hope to reopen Sunday, March 29.

“As a very important place to many in the Jewish community making the decision to close the J was extremely difficult. Based on the best information at the time it was the only option,” said Artie Allen, JCC CEO.

The JCC will continue to provide daily lunches for seniors, drive-through/pick-up style as well as its “meals on wheels” program. Although the campus is officially closed, individuals and families seeking a meal, can participate in a drive-up, meal pick up program offered Monday – Friday from noon to 1 p,m. located in front of the JCC. If you are not already enrolled, the service can be accessed through the Community Health Crisis Needs Intake Form (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dallascovidneeds).

Jewish Day Schools

Akiba-Yavneh Academy, Levine Academy, Mesorah High School for Girls, Texas Torah Institute and Torah Day School of Dallas  suspended in-person classes beginning Monday, March 16. TTI’s 16 boarders had all returned home safely by Monday, March 16. On Tuesday, Akiba-Yavneh, Mesorah and TTI were in full swing with their online instruction. Levine Academy’s Levine-At-Home Program was set to begin Wednesday. Torah Day School plans to have online instruction begin Monday, March 23.

“The online experience, the need to quickly mobilize and move our learning community into this brave new world, has been a challenge through which we have grown immeasurably closer. Watching my family, and so many other families pray together, learn together and rise to this challenge has been so inspirational, so moving. I could not be prouder of our school and our community.,” Akiba-Yavneh Head of School Rabbi Yaakov Green said of the first day of virtual instruction Tuesday.

Community Home for Adults CHAI

CHAI CEO Lisa Brodsky told the TJP Monday that the agency had been preparing a coronavirus plan for three weeks.

The organization suspended its CLUBCHAI Social activities March 2. It has enough backup food for two weeks and medication supplies through April. CHAI’s eight group homes are closed to visitors, Brodsky said. Services to clients who live outside the group homes have been suspended. As of Monday, March 16, residents were not allowed to go to work, volunteer or outside day programs. The CHAI central office is  closed and those staff members are working from home to support residents and group home staff.

“We are taking this day by day. We do need personal protective equipment in case someone get the virus. At this point we are OK,” Brodsky said. 

The TJP website is being continually updated  and any changes between TJP issues will be posted.

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