Collecting These Times includes testimonials and records during the pandemic about diverse facets of American Judaism. These contributions are available on our searchable database. The following five essays distill these experiences while also thinking through how the challenges of the pandemic has changed practices of Judaism through the lenses of community, accessibility, and giving. 


Windows into Our Lives

Maddie Bender

Two years ago, my monolingual family and I watched a Passover seder in Spanish over the video-conferencing platform, Zoom. The Passover Zoom was unlike any other, in no small part because it was conducted in a foreign language. I don’t remember the reasoning behind this decision, but I recall crowding around an iPad positioned at one side of our dining room table, which we took turns using as a classroom and meeting space during the day. It goes without saying that during April 2020, we were conducting our lives almost exclusively from the confines of our apartment, and the platform that enabled our virtual existence was Zoom. My mother attended speaker events; my sister went to high school; and I played online Yahtzee with a group of friends well into the witching hours.


“An Extraordinary Time”: Conservative and Orthodox Halachic Approaches to Jewish Observance during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Susan R. Breitzer

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, religion and public health appeared to have an uneasy relationship, with some religious groups becoming hostile to basic public health measures that interfered with their gatherings and practices. And the American Jewish world was no exception, with Orthodox Judaism gaining a reputation for indifference and even hostility to the lifesaving measures that its own religious tenets mandated. Some of the most memorable images of this period are of religious Jews gathering in larger crowds for the funeral of an important rabbi who had died of the disease, or burning masks offered to them.


The COVID-19 Pandemic and the “Social Model” of Disability

Sarah Imhoff

Would any alternative calendars work?
How do we build community “without leaving the building”?
How will this plan affect people’s mental health?
Will everyone who needs this have access?

Accommodation, Flexibility, Adjustments.

These questions and words sound familiar to anyone who has discussed education, religious community, or even work during the pandemic. They also sound familiar to anyone who thinks about disability.

In North American Jewish communities, relatively few people used the word “disability” to explain how they saw accommodations and adjustments during the pandemic. But, many people, from rabbis to laypeople, in fact, proceeded with a set of assumptions that look very much like what disability scholars and activists call “the social model” of disability. That is, they ask questions about the norms, requirements, and assumptions about human bodies with the knowledge that bodies are socially constructed.


American Jewish Giving and Engagement in the First Year of COVID-19

Hanna Shaul Bar Nissim

COVID-19 presented an unprecedented challenge for non-profit institutions. Alongside many other agencies, Jewish philanthropic institutions and their donors mobilized quickly to meet the immediate and long-term needs created by the pandemic and to sustain communal engagement. The characteristics of American Jewish giving and engagement in times of emergency and crisis are the focus of this essay, which presents trends and data on Jewish philanthropy during 2020. The essay provides an analysis of the roles and responsibilities of Jewish philanthropy during the COVID-19 crisis. Communal and individual efforts aimed at meeting immediate social and welfare needs, including the elimination of disparities that intensified during the pandemic. These efforts attested to the unique practices developed by American Jewish philanthropies over time and implemented during emergencies.


Whose Story is Told: Lived Religion and the Jewish Digital Artifacts of the Pandemic

Vanessa Ochs

Collecting organizations in America joined hands: Collecting These Times was a project of The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM)  and George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media; they were joined by the Breman Museum, the Capital Jewish Museum, Hebrew Theological College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools. The grassroots-dependent collecting efforts were readily funded, with support coming from the “Chronicling Funder Collaborative” composed of the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and The Russell Berrie Foundation. Similar efforts were inaugurated and funded in Israel, Europe, South Africa, and Australia.