March 20, 2020

We’re about to enter Shabbat on what, for many of us, was our first full week staying at home, as we collectively try to slow the pace of this terrifying pandemic. I’m thinking of those of you who are coping with your own illnesses or those of family and friends. And, of course, we are all mourning the loss of life as it was, with our in-person communities and social interaction.

In the special Torah reading for this Shabbat, known as Shabbat HaChodesh, we find the Israelites also hunkering down in their homes, as a plague passes through Egypt. While we certainly do not believe that COVID-19 is a punishment from God, or that it will spare our community or any other, perhaps this year we can identify with the fear of the people hiding out, waiting for the plague to pass.

And we can also identify with the anxiety of a people setting out on a journey to a new place, without knowing how long this journey will take or what their world will look like when they arrive. Uncertainty about the future, we know, can be terrifying.

I want to update you on what T’ruah is doing to support you during this pandemic, as well as to ensure that we are continuing to raise a moral voice to protect the most vulnerable in our society, who are even more vulnerable now.

Here are some of the ways that we’ve been here for you this week:

On Wednesday, T’ruah board member Rabbi Bill Plevan taught an online class on “Martin Buber and social distancing” to more than 300 T’ruah members and supporters. You can find the video here.

On Thursday, T’ruah rabbis and cantors learned with renowned social epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed about the social and economic implications of the novel coronavirus, and with Rabbi Lisa Edwards about supporting a community through a long-term epidemic, based on her experience guiding an LGBTQ synagogue through the AIDS epidemic.

We are offering prayers from our chaverim, like this beautiful reflection from Rabbi Tamara Cohen.

And we’re looking beyond our community as well, including calling on ICE to release all detainees, demanding compassionate release for elderly prisoners, and calling attention to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s use of the pandemic to destroy democracy in Israel.

In the next week, look out for more opportunities to learn and to take action with us. And feel free to drop us a line at to let us know how we can better support you during this time.

As I mentioned last week, the T’ruah staff is currently telecommuting. Our main phone line will forward to a cell phone, but if you are trying to reach a particular staff member, e-mail will probably be more efficient. We have cancelled all travel for the near future. In accordance with Jewish law, we have also committed to continuing to pay the workers who clean our office, regardless of whether they are working.

Please also accept our apologies if it takes some time to acknowledge donations received by check, as we are not currently in the office.

I’ll be honest — we’re worried about the economic outlook, and about ensuring that T’ruah will be able to continue our crucial work this year and for many years to come. If you have not already made your gift this year, I hope that you will consider supporting the moral rabbinic voice and standing up for what it means to be a Jew.

Even as we ourselves hide from this plague, we will never stop raising a moral voice to insist that our government and our community care for every single member of our society — whether born here or elsewhere, whether documented or undocumented, whether seeking asylum from a temporary camp in Mexico or within the borders of our country, whether free or incarcerated, and whether insured or uninsured. Nor will we stop fighting for human rights for Israelis and Palestinians and for democracy in Israel.

Thank you for your partnership and your commitment to justice even during these trying times. 

Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Executive Director