Shep Englander — Federation Journal
Cincinnati’s Jewish Organizations Face Financial Pressures During COVID-19
The economic fallout from Ohio’s coronavirus pandemic closures is creating mounting financial challenges for the agencies, schools, and congregations that Jewish Cincinnati depends on. Most are seeing dropping revenue, even as needs are increasing.
“Some of our Jewish organizations are facing immediate financial strain, as facility closures drive program cancellations and revenue losses,” said Jewish Federation of Cincinnati CEO Shep Englander. “I have been dazzled at how every congregation, school, and agency has made lightning-fast pivots to operate without offices or facilities, having to do all its work online. And the congregations and organizations have been helping each other even beyond their normal level of collaboration. Whatever the future holds, our community will face it together.”
In order to help our community’s essential nonprofits avoid having to lay off staff, the Jewish Federation has been coaching agencies and congregations to apply for forgivable federal loans, available under the Payroll Protection Program of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security—CARES Act. The goal of the CARES Act is to keep workers employed during the pandemic, and the amount forgiven is in proportion to how much the organization maintains its staffing costs.
The Federation helped advocate for this program and then provided coaching, advice, and technical support to twenty Jewish nonprofits in Cincinnati, who applied for a total of nearly $4.5 million in forgivable loans. “The Federation’s Shared Business Services (SBS) exceeded our expectations, helping both existing clients, including the Mayerson JCC and other organizations to be among the first in line for these financially life-saving loans,” said Marc Fisher, CEO of the Mayerson JCC.
“At the same time, the Federation and other organizations have already moved some of their operating budgets away from programs that are not possible or are not a priority during the crisis to be used for more urgent needs.”
Many organizations do not have significant reserves to cover an unprecedented disruption like this one. To provide immediate help, the Jewish Federation is advancing its next funding allocation to agencies, so they can continue to serve the community, particularly the most vulnerable and those impacted by COVID-19. The Federation is coordinating with The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, assessing each organization to understand its emerging needs better.
“We know we have to plan for the long-term recovery, even as we work hard in the short term to help them maintain daily operations,” Englander said. “Despite a tough reality, they are doing incredible work every day.”
Jewish Family Service
The community’s need for professional, social services continues—and is increasing.
“Nearly all of us are struggling in some way, due to COVID-19,” said Jewish Family Service CEO Liz Vogel. “Now more than ever, we need to join together to get the help we need—and to help those around us.”
Vogel says financial and emotional challenges are nearly universal right now. “Households that never imagined needing help are facing the loss of one or both of the incomes they depended on. Retirement accounts are worth less. It’s important that everyone understands they are welcome at Jewish Family Service and that they will be treated with dignity and respect.”
The client base at the Heldman Family Food Pantry, located at Jewish Family Service Barbash Family Vital Support Center, is growing; to maintain the health and safety of the staff and its clients, it is offering pre-bagged groceries for pickup. Last week, the team delivered over 450 Passover meals.
Counseling sessions are continuing, conducted via video-conferencing, in keeping with new federal and state regulations and to comply with insurance guidelines. These sessions offer a high degree of privacy, as people never need to leave their homes.
Care managers are connecting with clients of the Center for Holocaust Survivors and the Russian Jewish Cultural Center to ensure their basic needs are met. Some new “virtual programming” has launched already, including online English lessons, and more is planned.
StarPoint Home Care continues to serve members of the community who need non-medical home care services, including help with shopping and errands, light housekeeping, and the activities of daily living. AgeWell Cincinnati continues to operate as a resource for older adults and has expanded its scope to serve the needs of community members of all ages through the community’s COVID-19 hotline. A new service to help people with online shopping is launching now, enabling seniors to avoid supermarkets.
“We will be on the ground, helping our community through this crisis: helping families and individuals struggling financially or with food insecurity, and helping people struggling with mental health challenges,” said JFS CEO Liz Vogel.
The Mayerson JCC is continuing to prepare, package, and deliver meals to more than 1,100 older adults each week through its Meal on Wheels program. When Ohio’s stay-at-home order began in mid-March, the JCC delivered more than 5,000 meals, including its regular hot meals and a 14-day supply of shelf-stable food items, to ensure each recipient had enough food to get by until the next delivery.
True to its mission, the JCC is continuing to operate as a community center and gathering space—even while its building is closed. Its fitness instructors are offering free classes online—open to both members and non-members; more than 600 people have signed up to participate. Families of the Early Childhood School can see and connect with their teachers and classmates through online learning and scheduled Zoom “meetings.” Families with young children can see familiar faces through online classes and PJ Library story time. Lovers of arts and culture can get inspired together and foster community through virtual group programming.
However, the financial reality of lost revenue due to the closures of its fitness facility, Early Childhood School, and many other programs, is potentially devastating.
“Membership dues support our fitness and wellness center maintain crucial services for seniors in our community, provide funding our staff, and keep our campus beautiful,” Fisher said. “Until our doors reopen, membership dues will be considered a tax-deductible donation. Thousands of individuals, and hundreds of families, rely on us to be there for them now more than ever.”
JVS Career Services
Although JVS Career Services offices are closed for in-person meetings, the staff recognizes that COVID-19 will significantly increase furloughs and layoffs for people in the area and is committed to continuing to provide the same level of services to clients and local organizations during this time. Career Coaches are meeting with clients remotely via phone or video conference to help them navigate the job search process. In addition, JVS Career Services has added webinars that include: Beginning the Job Search Process, Resume Writing, and Using LinkedIn in Your Job Search. All of the webinars will be recorded and available on the website. Job seekers can find online job listings for open positions on the website as well. For those whose careers have been affected by COVID-19, JVS Career Services is offering these services free of charge.
Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center
The Holocaust & Humanity Center (HHC) has transitioned its educational content online to ensure that local schools and organizations can continue to offer Holocaust education remotely while they are closed. It is offering virtual tours of its museum at Union Terminal, an online speaker series, and a virtual book club.
In addition, HHC is turning its annual community-wide Yom HaShoah commemoration into a week of virtual experiences—which are being shared by other communities because of how well they were created and how quickly they were planned.
At Rockwern Academy, the building is closed but school is open online. The teachers moved to online learning on March 16, and students are both doing independent work assigned by their teachers and enjoying daily synchronous learning sessions. Students support continues to be provided by the school’s counselor, speech language pathologist, reading specialists, and gifted specialist. Shabbat celebrations are now online with dozens of children singing together each Friday afternoon. The school’s librarian is providing students access to online books, and some music classes are continuing online. Even now, Rockwern is embracing its commitment to serving others and is partnering with Jewish Family Service to connect students with members of the community who may be lonely; students are sending notes and artwork and will soon begin online conversations with older members of the community.
The Camp Livingston year-round staff and Board of Directors are working hard to ensure the continuity of the organization. While they hold out hope that the summer overnight camp experience will continue as planned, and are continuing to plan for that, it is too early to know exactly how the coronavirus will impact summer camp. “Camp Livingston has been here for 100 years,” said Executive Director Max Yamson. “We are working to make sure that it’s here for 100 more.”
Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati
Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati has been operating with reduced staff, because of the need for some to care for children at home. New protocols have been put in place to keep families, as well as the staff of Jewish Cemeteries, Weil Kahn Funeral Home, and clergy safe—including limiting the number of people at graveside burials.
“Jewish Cemeteries recognizes how difficult this time can be for family and friends of a loved one who has passed,” said Executive Director David Harris. “Our traditions have always been a comfort, and part of the selfless mitzvah of K’vod Ha’Met (Honoring the Dead). But in this time of crisis, these new protocols are essential to being able to continue that mitzvah.”
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
Stay connected: sign up for our newsletter here.