Impact Stories:

COVID-19 Relief Stories: Elul Beit Midrash

Pittsburgh Energizes Pandemic-Era Connections in Israel — Without Losing Power in the Burgh

Suddenly, as though a plug had been removed from a socket, COVID restrictions disconnected people from the power of their spiritual communities. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh acted like an extension cord, re-establishing connections and, in the process, safeguarding mental and physical health. In one case, the extension cord was a long one, reaching from Pittsburgh to Israel — at almost zero cost.

The recharged community was Elul Beit Midrash.

Elul is the first pluralist beit midrash, or house of learning, in Israel. At Elul programs throughout the country, people of different backgrounds study Jewish and Israeli sources collaboratively and creatively, acknowledging that contrasting views may be equally valid.

Religious and secular Jews, people of various gender identities, and participants of all ages study through Elul, a nonprofit whose programs feature storytelling, personal histories, poetry, music and art. Hundreds participate regularly. On special occasions, Elul reaches thousands, especially children. By bringing people together, Elul connects people to the wellspring of Judaism and provides a roadmap for flourishing diversity in Israel.

Support for Israel by the Numbers

A few of the many ways the Community Campaign has supported Jewish communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

Last year, coronavirus forced Elul to cancel in-person programs. Without participants’ fees, Elul had to furlough staff. To keep powerful programs flowing, Elul needed a loan and backers to guarantee the loan.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provided $100,000 as a loan guarantee, through The Jewish Agency for Israel and Ogen, an Israeli nonprofit lender. With this surety and guarantees from many other Jewish Federations, Elul received a 3 percent loan of about $122,400. The loan enabled Elul to bring back staff and resume programming virtually.

In fact, Elul expanded offerings. Working with the Jerusalem Municipality, Elul created content for Channel 98, which serves senior citizens. Elul broadcast 20 episodes that were uploaded to YouTube. Virtual discussions of the episodes extend the learning.

Jeffrey Finkelstein, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh president and CEO, reflected: “According to plan, most of the loan guarantee, which benefited thousands in Israel, will return to Pittsburgh to create future community benefit. Collective giving to the Pittsburgh Federation multiplied donors’ impact — on both sides of the globe.”

Connections to synagogues and valuable programs have helped Pittsburghers power through isolation caused by the pandemic. Because of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the power of valuable Elul programming is helping in Israel as well.

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