1. Check on your Neighbors
Call your friends, neighbors, and community members—especially those who live alone. Make an extra effort to check in with elderly or more vulnerable members to see if they are in need of anything. Involve your community members by each agreeing to check in with a certain number of people on a given day. At the end of the evening, your group can debrief the experience together of what it was like checking in with those in need.
2. Donating Food to Those in Need
Maimonides teaches that the mitzvah to be joyful on holidays is fundamentally about sharing the festivity with those in need. He speaks very harshly about someone who shuts their door to the poor, while celebrating lavishly with their family indoors. While we are unable to invite the needy into our homes this year, we can certainly capture the spirit of this tradition by donating to those in need. Consider donating food or money to your local food pantry, according to your ability. Even better, pool resources within your community so that you can make a more sizable contribution from your community as a whole.
3. Offering First Fruits
In the Torah, Shavuot was an opportunity for the Israelites to bring their Bikkurim, the first and best fruits of their harvest, to the Temple in Jerusalem and offer thanks for their bounty. Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, dates – yumm! At a time when carbon emissions are declining significantly, we can do our part to both remember our agrarian ancestors and help the environment, one tomato or basil leaf at a time. Start small – on your windowsill, roof, or in your backyard – with your own garden of basic vegetables or herbs. Some say gardening is even good for mental health! Once you’ve found your First Fruit, you can make a special blessing over it, exercise mindful eating, or even “offer” it to a friend or loved one who has helped you make it through this uncertain time (or who you’d like to help).
4. Essential Recognition for Essential Workers
“Hakarat HaTov” is the Hebrew word for Gratitude. It literally means “Recognizing the Good.” Even when it feels like the world is on fire, there is good out there, waiting to be acknowledged and raised up. Know someone who is working on the front lines? Send them an e-card thanking them for the work they do to keep you safe. Does the person at the grocery store never seem to take a break? Pick up a greeting card from the market and write them a note expressing your sincere gratitude for helping to keep you well-fed and healthy. If you know a health professional who is working over Shabbat, help arrange for them to have some grape juice, challah, and even a bite to eat to make Shabbat just a bit more special. It’s important to Recognize the Good, but it’s even more impactful – and challenging – to speak that gratitude out loud or in writing to another person. Saying the “Modah/Modeh Ani” prayer in the morning is another great practice to verbally begin the day with an attitude of gratitude. Checkout https://www.gratitudedays.com/ for a list of other intentions and activities designed especially for this moment.
5. Ruth & The Vulnerable Mini-Book Club
Though we are all impacted by COVID-19, some populations are more vulnerable than others. The Book of Ruth is short (four chapters), but teaches important lessons about identity and supporting vulnerable populations, like immigrants, the poor, and other outsiders. You can find the Hebrew and English translation of Ruth here. Take a look at this sourcesheet from T’ruah or this guide to themes in Ruth (with discussion questions) for some inspiration to guide your conversation.