How do you reach out to Jews when they’re in quarantine? And how do you do it with the Chabad touch?
Rabbi Leibel and Nechamie Fajnland, of Chabad of Reston-Herndon, are doing it in ways to try to make area Jews feel cared for and less isolated.
“When this whole thing began, I don’t think anyone had any idea how it was all going to unfold,” Rabbi Fajnland said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic. “I think people are uncertain in terms of their health and finances. People are nervous, they’re not sure what to expect, and we need to show the message, ‘We’re in this together and we’re going to get out of this together.’”
They moved some services online. But mostly they cooked. Then they delivered the food as Shabbat meals to people’s homes.
“In the beginning we were hesitant. We were not sure if people were cool with taking something homemade,” said Nechamie Fajnland. “But it turned out that they were very cool. We use lots of handwashing and gloves, and people loved it. Food is a powerful way of outreach, and when you get chicken soup, it just warms you up from the inside out.”
Her husband agreed. “When someone shows up with a smile with challah or chicken soup, you feel cared for,” he said.
Then there are the flowers. The Fajnlands have been delivering them, too, mostly to people who live alone.
“Many people are able to work from home and are able to keep their jobs,” Rabbi Fajnland said. “But when you’re living alone and you’re home alone, it’s hard. We decided to bring flowers, a smile, check in on people. It surprised me how much people appreciated that.”
The Fajnlands don’t Zoom on Shabbat. So they host a gathering before the start of the Sabbath.
“We got together before candle-lighting time for a pre-Shabbat Zoom, not to do a Zoom service, but to sing one or two Shabbat songs to get us in the spirit. And then people ate the homemade food and it was really special,” Nechamie Fajnland said.
They have been getting creative to help people celebrate holidays and rituals. They fire up their Mazal Tov Mobile to deliver festive desserts to teens whose b’nai mitzvah had been canceled or postponed. For Passover, they prepared and delivered seder kits. Before Shavuot, they hired a kosher ice cream truck and hosted a holiday drive-thru for families with young children.
They are also hosting classes and community events online. Nechamie Fajnland leads a study class on the book of Kings for women on Mondays.
“Many of the women who are on the class live alone,” she said. “For them to have a Zoom class where they meet up with 15 of their friends, it’s a blessing, and they come away from it with a good message.”
Rabbi Fajnland has been organizing storytelling events over Zoom and Facebook Live. Community members tune in to listen to their friends and neighbors share expertise in business and medicine or interesting life stories. Hannah Berger Moran, a Holocaust survivor, recently shared her story of being born in Auschwitz and her father’s final words to her mother: “No matter how hard it is, think good thoughts.”
“We’re really offering a smile, a hand, warmth,” Nechamie Fajnland said. “We don’t have all the answers from a medical perspective — we’re not trained or experienced in that field — but we do try to tell people in the times we live in, ‘This would be a good way to direct your anxiety. This would be a good thing to do. This would be a good way to reach out.’”
She added, “People want to help, they want to give. This has made people really look at their neighbors and community members and think, ‘What does this person need?’”