Jewish Federation COVID-19 Relief Stories: Rieta Hirschman

senior person on iPad

When you ask Jo Sawyer to describe the care that the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA) is providing to her mother during the pandemic, Jo says,

“They really treat her as if she’s their mother. It’s genuine.”

Jo’s mother, Rieta Hirschman, moved to Pittsburgh from Washington state to be closer to her son. She lived three years in Jewish Association on Aging’s Weinberg Terrace, in an independent-living apartment she loved. After her first stroke, she transitioned to Weinberg Village. As her vascular dementia progressed, she moved to AHAVA Memory Care Center of Excellence at JAA.

Rieta’s video chat with her daughter often included Jo’s cats.

In February, when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed likely to affect visitors’ access to facilities like AHAVA Memory Care, Jo flew from Washington to visit Rieta, before restrictions were needed. She wanted to take advantage of the narrowing window of opportunity to visit her mother. “I was amazed at how careful JAA was with staff, residents and visitors,” Jo says. “They [went] above and beyond to keep the virus at bay.” Leaving was emotionally taxing. With Rieta in her 90’s and with advancing dementia, Jo wondered if she would ever see her mother again.

When the pandemic hit, JAA implemented rigorous screening, safety and distancing policies that would not have been possible without support from Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. The Federation paid for personal protective equipment (PPE) for JAA staff, extra people to conduct health screenings, air filtration systems and more.

Thanks to the money for extra staffing, JAA had the capacity to set up twice-a-week video chats between Jo and Rieta. In these video chats, Jo noticed that Rieta zeroed in on her and her brother, talked to them and seemed so happy to see them. Knowing the importance of these moments of joy amidst the confusion of dementia, Jo is grateful for all the effort JAA put into making the calls happen.

“It’s such a horrible situation, agonizing for everybody. We had stress on every angle,” says Jo.

“JAA made every effort to make it easier for us and to make me feel good about the safe care my mother was being given. I trust them completely.”

Jo Sawyer appreciates that donors to the Jewish Federation are providing care across the community. Jo explains, “It’s like a 360-degree situation. JAA is not only taking great care of their residents and their staff, but they are also looking at the continuity of services around the community.” The Jewish Federation leads the effort to coordinate services across Jewish agencies and to ensure that families have the support they need at the critical time they need it.

Rieta enjoys a safe visit with her children at AHAVA Memory Care.

Ultimately, Jo says, “It’s not just about a nursing home. It’s about understanding our family’s needs.”

When we, as members of the community, give together, we help more people. We help our neighbors, our friends, our own loved ones. Thanks to donor support through the Jewish Federation, our community can meet the needs of Rieta’s family, thousands of Jewish families around Pittsburgh and millions of people in Jewish communities around the world.

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COVID-19 Relief Tops $7 Million

stethoscope heart check up

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s board approved an additional $1 million in COVID-19 relief distributions on December 14, unlocking $600,000 in matching dollars for health and human services from Jewish Federations of North America. The $7,300,854 in total pandemic relief funds blew past the $7 million milestone and provided critical funds to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases skyrocket in Allegheny County and worldwide.

The latest round of distributions will address the most urgent needs in our Pittsburgh Jewish community and in Jewish communities around the world through seven of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies and overseas partners: Jewish Association on Aging, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Community Day School, Hillel Academy, Yeshiva Schools, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Based on the requests of these agencies, the board approved funds to address critical areas such as meal delivery for older adults, personal protective equipment and health screenings.

Jewish Federation’s pandemic relief distributions are made possible by the strength of the Federation’s Community Campaign, which has supported Jewish Pittsburgh for over 100 years. On Sunday, volunteer fundraisers further strengthened this year’s Campaign by raising over $211,000 at the Super Sunday phone-a-thon. This year’s event looked a little different, with volunteers making calls from their own homes, but that did not stop community members from answering the call to make their commitments to the Community Campaign.

COVID Distributions - $1M on 12/14/2020

JAAHuman service needs – specifically:
  • Staff time for distributing grab and go meals to older adults.
  • Collaboration with the Squirrel Hill Health Center to provide COVID-19 testing.
  • Health screenings for the Early Childhood Center.
JCCMeals for residents and PPE.$212,000
CDSExtra staffing.$100,000
Hillel AcademyExtra staffing (including nurse).$100,000
Yeshiva SchoolsExtra staffing (including nurse).$100,000
JAFIUnrestricted for food insecurity and emergency funding programs in Israel and other communities. Specifically:
  • Global loan fund for struggling Jewish communities around the world.
  • Stipends for immigrants, many of Ethiopian origin, in absorption centers who cannot easily find employment.
  • Staffing for Amigour facilities to protect physical and mental health of senior residents.
  • Living stipends for recently discharged lone soldiers who cannot find work due to pandemic and don’t have families to rely on.
JDCUnrestricted for food insecurity and emergency funding in Israel and other communities around the world. Specifically:
  • Providing food, medicine and shelter to elderly and families at risk in Europe.
  • Helping the neediest of families in Israel including hygiene kits, medicine, food, computers, games for kids.
  • Providing essential care including medicine, home repairs, housekeeping to low-income seniors in Israel.
  • Providing food, medicine, and money to the neediest elderly Jewish and families at risk in Argentina.
*The overseas agencies received roughly 5% of their requests to the Federation system.
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Jewish Federation has Distributed $1,549,380 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds

medical supplies

As of December 15, 2020, the Jewish Federation has distributed $1,549,380 in coronavirus relief funds in four areas:

  • Seniors: $313,842
  • Vulnerable Populations: $157,566
  • Children, Teens & Their Families: $401,522
  • Emergency Funding, Food Insecurity & Career Assistance: $676,450

Jewish Federation also helps coordinate coronavirus relief in Pittsburgh by:

  • Working to determine the community’s growing needs
  • Providing government relations support for SBA loans and other regulations
  • Providing webinars for the entire community with experts from CDC and labor attorneys
  • Assessing security needs – both physical and cybersecurity
  • Providing virtual programming and content for different audiences
  • Assessing the needs of smaller organizations and synagogues
  • Conducting a needs assessment of individuals to connect them to services

Learn more below about:

Details About the Four Areas of Need:


Distributions to Seniors

JAAAdditional scrubs for staff use-onsite only and surgical masks​.$20,930Seniors
JAACost of installing “virus-killing” technology in HVACV ductwork in some of common areas.$14,740Seniors
JAAFace Shields – 1,000 (re-usable).$5,000Seniors
JAADisposable isolation gowns – 5,000.$25,000Seniors
JAAPortable sanitizing machines (2).$4,000Seniors
JAAMedical Supplies, N95 Masks, PPE (for 3 weeks).$23,000Seniors
JAAScrubs for on-campus use only.$12,000Seniors
JAAPaper products, no re-usable dishes (for 3 weeks).$12,000Seniors
JAAMollie’s Meals – increased demand.$20,000Seniors
JAFIPassover food for quarantined seniors in Israel.$12,200Seniors
JCCTechnology to enable immunocompromised AgeWell staff to work from home.$3,000Seniors
JCCPPE and equipment for Agewell to make and deliver meals to homebound seniors.$6,800Seniors
JCCAdditional staff time for AgeWell at the JCC to prepare and distribute grab and go meals between May and August.$30,212Seniors
JDCProviding 250,00 quarantined and homebound Israeli seniors with essential care services such as medicine, housekeeping, home repairs, transportation for caregivers and a call center for further assistance. $25,000Seniors
JDCEmergency medicine, medical care, food for homebound seniors in FSU.$10,000Seniors
JDCFood, medicine, other support for homebound seniors in Israel.$20,000Seniors
JFCSAgeWell Pittsburgh: virtual pharmaceutical screenings for 200 high-risk seniors not currently enrolled in HomeMeds (an evidence-based medication reassurance program that helps older adults understand what medications they are taking and how those medications affect them)​.$6,000Seniors
Repair the WorldLaunch a summer pilot program to create 10 young adult fellows to mobilize volunteers in acts of service in Pittsburgh. This is part of a national initiative.$15,000Seniors
JAAPurchase Negative Air Machines and Well-Air Machines to protect residents and staff from aerosolized virus.$17,000Seniors
JDCProviding quarantined and homebound elderly Israelis with essential care services, e.g. medicine, housekeeping, home repairs, transportation for caregivers. In addition, JDC is providing logistical and volunteer support to ensure that government-provided food and the additional services arrive at the homes of the elderly.$25,000Seniors
JDCFood, medicine and monetary assistance to the neediest elderly Jews, people with chronic diseases, and families with children at risk in Argentina.$6,000Seniors
vulnerable populations

Distributions - Vulnerable Populations

Aleph InstituteSupport families and individuals in need of immediate financial assistance.$30,000 Vulnerable Populations
Israel Trauma CoalitionProvide online support for teams for social workers in order to help them recoup energy and review tactics for coping with the stress.$10,000 Vulnerable Populations
JAFIFinancial support for lone soldiers.$2,500 Vulnerable Populations
JAFIHygiene supplies, basic nutrition for Ethiopians awaiting immigration to Israel.$8,100 Vulnerable Populations
JAFIFood kits for new immigrants to Israel.$4,100 Vulnerable Populations
JDCSupplies for staff/volunteers to enable food/medicine delivery and virtual check-ins on homebound clients in FSU.$9,850 Vulnerable Populations
JFCS/FederationCommunity resource hotline.$5,000 Vulnerable Populations
JRSTechnology for staff and clients to facilitate communication.$10,000 Vulnerable Populations
JRSPrepaid smartphones for 20 Clubhouse members.$1,000 Vulnerable Populations
Bikkur CholimSupports increased costs for housing, transportation, food, cleaning, etc. for grassroots, lay-led organization that assists patients and their families who come to Pittsburgh for medical treatment.$5,000Vulnerable Populations
JAFISupport to fight Domestic Violence in Absorption Centers in Israel. As part of the acculturation process, Jewish Agency staff address domestic violence within new immigrant families. During the crisis, 7,000 new immigrants already struggling with the stress of adjusting to a new country, language, and culture in exceptional circumstances found themselves largely confined within the four walls of their small absorption center apartments, increasing the potential for abusive situations. JAFI will map instances of abuse and create small group workshops and individual therapy for those that have been living in a home affected by domestic violence. $5,000Vulnerable Populations
JRSSupporting 25 participants or Clubhouse members with technology (Chromebook, Facebook Portal or similar equipment, plus monthly Wi-Fi cost for 12 months) that would allow them to connect to JRS programs, and to family and friends. $20,000Vulnerable Populations
Squirrel Hill Health CenterStaff costs associated with providing COVID-19 testing at the JCC between now and June 2021.$47,016Vulnerable Populations

Distributions to Children, Teens & Their Families

CDSProvide Chromebooks for students K-5 in anticipation of remote learning.$20,000Children, Teens & their Families
Early Childhood Centers (11)PPE and addtional supplies for teachers, staff that is more regulated by the County.$12,409Children, Teens & their Families
Hillel AcademyProvide Chromebooks for students in anticipation of remote learning.$20,000Children, Teens & their Families
JAAPurchase a thermal thermometer that connects to their existing security kiosk. This will also relieve staff time that is currently required to manually take temperatures.$15,960Children, Teens & their Families
JCCContribution to Grinspoon "All Together" Matching Grant for Emma Kaufman Camp.$6,275Children, Teens & their Families
JCCPay screeners for three months to take temperatures at various early childhood and camp sites.$42,598Children, Teens & their Families
JDCFood, medicine, medical assistance for children in FSU to address hardship created by parents’ job loss.$2,150Children, Teens & their Families
Part Time SchoolsProfessional Development in remote learning.$12,050Children, Teens & their Families
Yeshiva Schoolsfor equipment and staffing to implement free kosher breakfast and lunches for kids up to age 18. $35,000Children, Teens & their Families
Yeshiva SchoolsTechnology to enable teachers and families to engage in virtual learning.$20,000Children, Teens & their Families
Yeshiva, CDS, Hillel AcademyTwo days of summer planning and professional development to prepare for a safe reopening and a new blended online/in-person learning environment.$68,800Children, Teens & their Families
Hillel JUCDevelopment and implementation of new orientation strategy to engage Jewish college students in socially distanced and/or virtual campus environment.$25,000Children, Teens & their Families
JDCProviding basic assistance to Israeli families in poverty (exacerbated by pandemic crisis) including hygiene kits, medicine/health needs, games/books for children, food, computers, as well as family counseling and therapy for families and children.$10,000Children, Teens & their Families
JDCProviding European families and elderly with supplementary food, medicine and shelter.$7,500Children, Teens & their Families
RatzonSupporting food distribution in partnership with Repair The World and Pittsburgh Mutual Aid, to queer Jewish youth (teens, young adults) who do not feel comfortable going to the JFCS Food Pantry or other sites.$15,000Children, Teens & their Families
Chabad on CampusTo support virtual programming and additional cleaning for facilities.$8,240Children, Teens & their Families
MisgavProvision to promote virtual learning, outdoor High Holiday prayer, assistance for families in need, and other COVID related needs.$30,000Children, Teens & their Families
KarmielProvision to promote virtual learning, outdoor High Holiday prayer, assistance for families in need, and other COVID related needs.$20,000Children, Teens & their Families
Dror IsraelContinuation of their childcare program for children of essential medical workers.$15,000Children, Teens & their Families
Tzohar SeminaryVirtual education technology and additional Shabbat food expense due to the inability of students to be hosted in the community.$7,500Children, Teens & their Families
Krembo WingsTo provide six KremboBus home visits to children with disabilities in Karmiel/Misgav. KremboWing counselors come to sing songs and play games with the children at their homes.$9,000Children, Teens & their Families
food bank

Distributions to Emergency Funding, Food Insecurity & Career Assistance

FederationPurchase at-cost surgical masks and other PPE stockpile for distribution to Jewish organizations (up to $10,000 but not to exceed)​.$10,000Career Assistance
JCCEmployer premiums for furloughed employees for two months (interest-free loan).$97,500Career Assistance
JFCSPPE for JFCS Employees.$3,000Career Assistance
JFCS1 FTE counselor in Career Development Center (3 months).$23,300Career Assistance
JFCS2 FTEs case workers to help clients apply for benefits (3 months).$25,000Career Assistance
JFCSTelephone Interpretation to assist clients in applying for benefits.$15,000Career Assistance
Hebrew Free LoanEmergency loans to meet dramatically increased demand.$100,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
Hebrew Free LoanEmergency loans to meet dramatically increased demand.$20,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
Jewish Assistance FundEmergency cash grants to meet dramatically increased demand.$50,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
JFCSVan for food pantry deliveries to home-bound individuals ($15,000 contributed to by the United Way).$10,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
JFCSFood for Food Pantry – increased demand.$20,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
JFCSSOS PGH cash – increased demand.$50,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
JFCSFood Pantry staffing – 2 FTEs (for 3 months).$23,600Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
JFCSSOS PGH staffing – 1 FTE (for 3 months).$17,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
SynagoguesRabbi discretionary funds - emergency cash for congregants/community members in need.$75,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
Jewish FederationPurchase PPE for distribution to Jewish organizations including PPE to New Chevra Kadisha and the Gesher Hachaim Jewish Burial Society to conduct taharoth (the ceremony of washing a corpse before burial) $7,050Career Assistance
JDCWorking with the Government of Israel to help people who have lost, or are about to lose, their jobs or be furloughed, by creating re-skilling content, highlighting alternative employment opportunities. $15,000Career Assistance
ITCProviding online self-care training and techniques to teams in hospitals around the country with a priority to those in specialized Corona care facilities.$4,000Career Assistance
CWBProviding unique online programs that include professional development workshops, continuing education events, ‘in-school’ instruction and resources with direct applications for the digital classroom.$30,000Career Assistance
SynagoguesUnrestricted funds to defray costs associated with online and in-person worship during the fall holidays.$75,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity
United WayTo pay for the gap in providing kosher food to families who require it. This provides 150 families with kosher meals for five weeks.$6,000Emergency Funding & Food Insecurity

How Jewish Federation Is Able to Help Quickly

The Federation’s board of directors authorized a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Committee (a subset of the existing Planning and Funding Committee) to redirect funds to immediate relief needs. Following this quick needs assessment, on March 31, the committee approved $183,600 to local beneficiary agencies and $66,400 to overseas partners. On April 6, the Committee approved an additional $294,800 to local agencies. Funding in subsequent weeks has brought the total distributed to $775,875. These funds are a combination of campaign and foundation allocations that were reallocated and supplemental donor gifts.

Because the Jewish Federation already had excellent relationships with our primary beneficiary agencies as well as with the many other Jewish agencies and synagogues in Pittsburgh, the Federation was able to remain in constant communication with our beneficiary agencies, community leaders, and overseas partners as part of the needs assessment to understand pain points, both financial and operational; to develop a short-, medium-, and long-term list of financial needs; and to itemize the needs with dollar amounts.

Impact Stories: Your Dollars at Work

Stories from people directly affected by this funding has been heartwarming. The spouse of a JAA resident said, “The only way I am getting through this nightmare is knowing that my wife is being taking care of so beautifully.” A client of Hebrew Free Loan commented,

“I’ve never had to apply for any kind of loans before. This was so much easier than I expected, and you have no idea how much of help it’s going to be to me and my family. Thank you so much for being here and doing the important work you do!”

The Federation also received positive feedback from agency staff and volunteers. The chair of the board of JFCS commented, “Your continued support for JFCS is quite meaningful and we value our ongoing relationship that allows us to make a difference in the lives of individuals in our community.” The chair of JRS’s board of directors said, “JRS is so appreciative of Federation’s support in these difficult times, and always.”

JFCS related a story about two Pittsburghers, Ron and Julie (names disguised), who have been living in Pittsburgh for the past year and approached the Food Pantry for the first-time last week. They have never utilized a food pantry before and were clearly uncomfortable with needing to do so. In addition to reassuring them and providing them with food, JFCS referred Ron and Julie to the Career Development Center. JFCS also connected them with resources outside of the Jewish community for other kinds of potential assistance.

Making Your Dollars Go Further

The Jewish Federation’s financial resources development team continues to work hard to increase the unrestricted Community Campaign that makes this work possible. More help is still needed: seniors continue to live in isolation, furloughed employees need to provide food for their families, people living with mental health issues require specialized assistance, Jewish children need a Jewish education, and organizations are still relying on allocations from the Federation’s Community Campaign to pay employees, to provide innovative programming, and to keep the lights on so that Jewish Pittsburgh can continue once people are able to leave their homes.

In addition to Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s direct contributions, our national partner Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) tapped into Israel emergency funds (partly established by Pittsburgh contributions through our Federation’s Community Campaign) to make the following allocations to our international partners:

  • $350,000 to the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) for direct services to Jewish seniors internationally
  • $200,000 to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to support residents of Amigur housing facilities with protective equipment, hygiene supplies and food
  • $200,000 for loan funds for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that Pittsburgh supports
  • $75,000 to the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) for their work with first responders

JAFI is also working to establish a loan fund to preserve infrastructure in Jewish communities around the world, available to Jewish organizations around the world for four years with a one-year grace period. A global partnership between JAFI, Keren Ha’Yesod and JFNA will create this loan fund, and the leadership of these organizations will oversee the loans in a newly formed ad-hoc committee

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Leket Israel Coronavirus Update

The day Israel’s president showed up to help Leket Israel feed the pandemic poor.

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Kishorit Coronavirus Update

Kishorit - young man with horse

Below is an update from Kishorit, one of our longstanding grantee organizations. I encourage you to read it despite its length as they seem to be handling the pandemic quite well.

Kim Salzman

I hope you are healthy and adjusting as easily as possible to our new global reality. When I first reached out to you in March, I never envisioned that 5 months later we would still be facing the immense challenges posed by Covid-19.  In Israel, we are fighting a very serious second wave of Coronavirus.  As Corona reaches every community in Israel, and as morbidity rates and anxiety levels rise, we have redoubled our efforts to ensure the physical safety and emotional well-being of our members. Early on, we understood that loneliness and isolation could be just as deadly for our members as the virus.  We needed to find a way to preserve the social fabric of our community.  In consultation with a team of infectious disease specialists, we made some initial adjustments to our employment centers and leisure time facilities, and now we have decided to test the entire Kishorit community for Coronavirus every ten days.  Although this has placed a heavy burden on all of our staff, particularly our nursing staff, it has allowed us to adhere to the strictest disease prevention protocols while preserving the members’ desperately needed daily routine. In this time of immense stress and uncertainty, going to work together and sharing leisure time activities is an absolute necessity, and a special blessing.

For me, one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been watching the Kibbutz Kishor members embrace and support the Kishorit members.  Being integrated into a larger community has given the Kishorit members an unparalleled sense of safety, security and comfort.  I, personally, have drawn enormous strength from my neighbors and friends, and from the feeling that we are truly all in this together.

In addition to the immediate impact that Corona is having on our members, it is having a financial impact on our businesses and community.  Our dog kennel, which is usually full during summer vacation, is virtually empty. Our estate winery, which generally hosts groups and sells wine to restaurants, has temporarily shut its doors to the public.  With restaurants closed and sales down, we have made the difficult decision to sell some of our grapes from this August’s harvest to another winery.  Aside from the loss of revenue, we estimate that the increased costs of personal protective equipment and sanitizing necessary to keep our businesses running until December 2020 will be $100,000.

In spite of the pandemic, the rhythm of life continues to hum in Kishorit. There are moments of great joy, and moments of great sorrow.  Over the past few months, one of our members underwent a successful kidney transplant, while another member was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and began chemotherapy treatments.  On a national level, tensions have flared on the Lebanese border, not far from Kishorit, and we are constantly reminded that our simple lives are fragile.  Through all of the ups and downs, we feel very blessed to have you as part of our extended community.  Your outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming, and is not taken for granted. I can’t wait until the travel restrictions are over and I will be able to see you in person once again.  Until then, please accept a socially distanced hug and my deepest thanks for all that you continue to do for Kishorit. With love, respect and gratitude.

Shuki Levinger

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Federation Funds Ecology for a Protected Community

As Israel prepares to weather a second coronavirus wave, the Jewish Federation funded a social enterprise that collects and reconditions electronic waste in Misgav.

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