[Editor’s Note: We are happy to share this article about how Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, partnered with Arizona Jews for Justice, the social action project of Valley Beit Midrash, a pluralistic Jewish organization, mobilized to help vulnerable communities impacted by Covid-19 by providing masks to all those who needed them. This is an example of Jewish organizations, Orthodox and pluralistic, truly embodying the Torah teachings of love and justice. ~ Cat J. Zavis]
When you work in the social action field, you see a lot of pain. You see the faces of people who are oppressed, who are exploited, who feel that the world works against them. When you become an advocate, you see systemic injustice on a daily basis. It gets exhausting.
But most of all, when you go back into the community, you see… hope.
Because when you go back into the community and see how your work and the work of your colleagues has positively affected the lives of vulnerable people, you know that all the hard work means something, that it wasn’t done in vain.
The COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) pandemic has truly exacerbated divisions in American society. The clear delineation of those with access and those without has been heartbreakingly made clear in a way we haven’t seen in generations. Breakdowns in leadership and expanding economic inequality, while frustrating and, indeed, tragic, have also been perfect opportunities for empowered individuals to fill voids and create opportunities to assist the vulnerable during this once-in-a-lifetime crisis.
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For Arizona Jews for Justice and Uri L’Tzedek, the ensuing crisis meant creating crucial opportunities for action and healing and not simply actions that would be a temporary balm to soothe people in need. Rather, through the combination of private philanthropy, community donations, and civic action, Arizona Jews for Justice and Uri L’Tzedek were able to provide innovative support and reassuring comfort to vulnerable populations when the times seemed most bleak.
We called our initiative to comfort the vulnerable The Mask Project, a simple but multifaceted program that empowered recently out of work immigrant mothers, immunocompromised community members, and members of Native communities without proper access to medical supplies. Our plan was simple: employ laid off immigrant women to make filtered fabric masks and distribute said masks to communities we felt needed them the most. As there were shortages of critical masks all across the country, it felt like an imperative to act to ensure that people could have access to a mask.
The response was incredible and humbling. Within hours of announcing the project on social media, we received thousands of dollars of small donations from dozens of contributors. We saw that people wanted an outlet to act. We were the facilitators for others to perform a mitzvah for the less fortunate and the sick.
There is so much work to do and self-congratulations are not in order. As we shift into the next phases of a COVID-19 society, there is so much that the Jewish community can do to establish pipelines that protect vulnerable populations. While it might be tempting to keep resources for our own community—this is intrinsic human nature—the ability to look beyond ourselves and to populations that need a little assistance is the foundation of the Torah mandate to love and help the stranger. Of course, the stranger here is no longer a foreigner, but people within our communities.
If anything, The Mask Project proves that straightforward ideas can have a large and lasting impact. To see the smiles on faces of people who have been ignored is truly a feeling that can’t be explained properly on paper.
Let’s use hope as our guide as we navigate these difficult times. It will steer us in the right direction.
To learn more about The Mask Project, please visit our Facebook page.