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Counting the Omer Inspired Us to Help a Pantry Cope with Covid-19
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The View From CampusJohns Hopkins Univeristy

Counting the Omer Inspired Us to Help a Pantry Cope with Covid-19

The crisis reminds us of our obligation to engage in acts of chesed and tzedakah.

The author and his girlfriend
at a L.I. soup kitchen.
Courtesy of Isaac Adlerstein
The author and his girlfriend at a L.I. soup kitchen. Courtesy of Isaac Adlerstein

The emergence of Covid-19 has sent shockwaves around the globe and has disrupted all of our lives. However, while most of us are able to practice social distancing at home with plenty of food to eat, the more than 250 guests of the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) in Hempstead, New York, are far less fortunate.

I began volunteering at the INN in January of 2017, during my post-high school gap year. I was shocked to witness the degree of poverty and homelessness that existed just twenty minutes from my home. After being inspired by the INN’s no-questions asked policy and its core principle of treating everyone with dignity and respect (demonstrated by small gestures, like calling the clients “guests”), I decided to volunteer there three times a week. I volunteered with the INN’s soup kitchen, the Mary Brennan INN, as well as its social work resource center, the Center for Transformative Change. The INN also operates several homeless shelters across Long Island.

I bonded with many of the guests, staff and volunteers, and decided to make the INN my charity of choice. Since enrolling at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I made it a priority to volunteer regularly at the INN whenever I was home from school.

Last summer I met my girlfriend Deena Albert, another long-time volunteer at the INN, at the Mary Brennan INN. Since the emergence of Covid-19, like most other volunteers, Deena and I have been unable to support the INN’s operations in-person. Still, we have sought ways to stay involved.

As we were, and still are, in the midst of a pandemic, we thought about the relevancy of the Omer—which we began counting on the second night of Passover. In the Second Century, during the first 32 days of the Omer, there was a mysterious epidemic that killed roughly 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students, supposedly for them failing to show proper love and respect to one another. The antidote for shortcomings like these in our own times remain studying and performing acts of charity and loving-kindness. Deena and I wanted to do this by rallying our communities around a shared act of chesed.

On April 12, Deena and I launched an online fundraiser for the INN, with the initial objective of raising $5,000 to help cover the cost of the grab-and-go system the INN had to adopt due to social distancing guidelines. Thanks to the generous support of dozens of friends, family and strangers, we reached our goal within a week. At that point, we decided to double our goal, and within another week, we had successfully raised over $10,000. The fundraiser yielded enough money to purchase 2,668 bagged lunches, which could feed over 250 guests for two weeks. More than half of the donations were $20 or less, demonstrating how small acts of kindness can be aggregated to make a big difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

While it appears as though Covid-19 is starting to level in New York, we must not forget about those who do not have a home to quarantine in, a bathroom to bathe in or a kitchen to eat in. These are very challenging times for us all, as individuals, as New Yorkers, and as Americans, but years from now, we can look back and remember how we helped get our hungry and homeless neighbors through this crisis.

The success of our fundraiser was not only monetary. Indeed, the fundraiser empowered over 275 friends, family, and strangers from around the country and around the world to engage in acts of Chesed and Tzedakah.

Please consider making a donation, no matter how big or how small, to your local soup kitchen or food pantry. If we can continue to perform acts of charity and kindness, perhaps we can help bring about the end of our own plague.

Isaac Adlerstein is a senior at Johns Hopkins University. He is a 2016 Write On For Israel graduate.

This piece is part of “The View From Campus” column written by students on campus. If you would like to contribute to it, email lily@jewishweek.org for more info. 

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