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6 Birthright Israel Alumni Making a Difference During the Pandemic

May 21, 2020 at 8:00 am
by Birthright Israel Foundation
Birthright Israel participants

One could have never imagined in 2020 we’d be amid a pandemic, separated from friends and loved ones. Our world will be different moving forward but that is no reason to give up hope. Together, each one of us can do our part to make the world a better place, even if we are socially distanced.         

Like so many of you, we at Birthright Israel Foundation look forward to the day young Jews from countries all over the world can travel to Israel. We know, with your support, we can be ready to provide this gift when the time is right. Until then, we can celebrate the impact this experience has had on our alumni and all the good they are doing because of their Birthright Israel experience.            

We know the power of Birthright Israel lasts well beyond the 10-day itinerary. One lesson in particular that sticks with so many young Jewish adults is that of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. The six alumni below are each going above and beyond to do their part in the fight against COVID-19. We hope their work and stories bring joy to your day.  

Meet Maya Horowitz
Smart from the Start

Maya Horowitz
Maya is a 2016 Birthright Israel Alumna

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

I currently work at Smart from the Start, a two-generational, trauma-informed family support, community engagement and school readiness organization whose mission is to promote the healthy development of young children in low income, underserved communities in Boston and Washington DC. Since the start of the pandemic, everyone at Smart has been very busy. Many of our families are out of work and, with school closures, have been struggling with childcare and keeping food on the table. We have mobilized to deliver emergency care packages with food, grocery store gift cards, learning materials, resource and information guides, soap and cleaning supplies, diapers, and sometimes medicine to our families. I’m proud to be working for an organization that is so essential during this time.

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back? 

To practice Tikkun Olam is to be empowered; capable. In working towards the greater good and investing time and resources to build up others, we are able to better understand ourselves and what it means to be human. As Jews, we are all too familiar with the consequences of inaction. It is important that during our times of prosperity we recommit to the foundations of our faith and culture and support not only our Jewish communities but the greater communities we are a part of. In supporting others, we strengthen ourselves.


Meet Max Seidel
Atlanta Face Shields

Max Seidel making face shields for healthcare workers
Max is a 2020 Birthright Israel Alumnus

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

I am involved with the Israeli organization Tikkun Olam Makers. It’s an organization that convenes teams of engineers, occupational therapists and other specialists who are assigned to come up with solutions to everyday problems. When my classes became remote in March 2020 I couldn’t sit around and just do nothing. So, I responded to an initiative by Tikkun Olam Makers called Rapid Response Makers. I had a 3D printer and knew I could print plastic face shields. Quickly, I realized I couldn’t make as many as I wanted to and I put a call out on social media for help. That is when Atlanta Face Shields was born and within a week I had a website and a GoFundMe page. My original goal was to make 500 masks and we quickly grew to over 2,400 and have raised $25,000 for the cause.

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back? 

Tikkun Olam is an incredible value we as Jewish people have. It’s our responsibility to use the abilities we have to help out in any situation. I’m an engineering student so I can’t help people with coronavirus become better, but what I can do is construct face shields to protect the doctors. It’s something that helps me stay motivated and happy. 


Meet Greg Volynsky & Corey Cohen
Friday’s Nudge

Corey and Greg together in NYC
Greg and Corey are Birthright Israel Alumni and Excel Fellows

Greg and Corey founded Friday’s Nudge, a twice-monthly newsletter that will explore what the pandemic changes and reveals about our relationships, family dynamics, culture, mental health, and society. 

What Greg has to Say

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

After the outbreak of the coronavirus, I moved in with my family. I was living under one roof with my parents, three younger siblings, grandmother, older brother and his partner. The first symptom to appear was loss of smell; then a fever, aches, tiredness. My entire family suffered through, mostly at once. We were blessed: we all survived, with little more damage than a few tough weeks. Yet the experience shook me to my core: for weeks, I saw my sick mother care for her ailing mother with the last of her strength. I witnessed my parents at the edge of a precipice like I’ve rarely before. The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally, if fleetingly, changes our society; I was immediately intrigued by what these changes reveal about who we are, and how they affect our collective psyche. 

After living through the virus, myself, I decided to devote myself to helping however I could. Ultimately, I decided to contribute in my own way: by writing about the hidden effects of the virus, about the families who are falling apart or coming together, about those who are experiencing depression, loneliness, or rejuvenation. I decided to contribute by writing about what this pandemic means for and reveals about our society, and by helping to connect some folks to opportunities to volunteer, donate, or engage. 

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back? 

Being a positive Jew comes with a responsibility to give back and help those around you – I really do believe this. By the numbers, Jews have always been an incredibly charitable group, and I think this speaks to our tradition. Practicing Tikkun Olam is and will be so important in light of the global challenges that we will face in the next several decades. 

What Corey has to Say

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

Witnessing the devastating impact of COVID-19 has been truly heartbreaking. For most, the comforts once taken for granted have come to a halting stop, but for many others, the situation has been much more dire. Despite all the chaos and hardships, however, great signs of generosity, resilience, and creativity, arose in many communities around the world. People began offering whatever in their power to help those in need. No effort was insignificant. Seeing this unravel, I too felt both inspired and obligated to help however I could.

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back?

I believe it is of great importance to practice Tikkun Olam because, as Jewish people, we are no strangers to suffering and hardships, nor are we strangers to overcoming these great adversities. They have caused us to view the world through a unique lens, to be empathetic, strong, and capable. It is crucial that we conserve this part of us, and continue to strengthen these values through practice.


Meet Amy Albertson
Influencer

Amy Albertson in Tel Aviv
Amy is a 2013 Birthright Israel Alumna

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

I’ve always been one of those people who sees a hole and feels the need to fill it. In Israel it can be difficult to find clear English resources to information – we always feel like we are a step behind the rest of Israel. I use my social media platform to breakdown information for fellow Olim in Israel and when the pandemic broke out, I decided it was only right to compile and share resources about COVID-19 as well. People responded positively to the information and sent me thank you messages. Some even helped me spread the word about Israeli businesses, news, and other resources. I also ended up learning how to sew masks and sold and donated a bunch to those in need.

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back? 

I think this is one of our most important values – and one that the whole world should adopt in their own way. We all will go through times in our lives where we need help, and times where we can offer it. I think it is important to recognize ways we can help, even if they are tiny. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 


Meet Jacob Cannon
Connect for COVID-19

Jacob Cannon and a friend
Jacob is a 2015 Birthright Israel Excel Fellow

What inspired you to get involved in the fight against COVID-19? 

I became involved with the initiative – Connect for COVID-19 – to improve the situation for thousands of patients in the US currently isolated in healthcare facilities due to COIVD-19 no-visitor policies. There have been far too many stories of hospital patients passing in isolation without the ability to connect to loved ones in such critical moments. Our initiative helps solve this issue by coordinating donations of video-capable devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) to hospital IT departments so that patients affected by the outbreak can use them to remain digitally connected. All in all, we’ve been able to drive a simple, impactful solution for a heartbreaking issue, and that has been very special. 

As a Jewish person, why do you think it’s important to practice Tikkun Olam and give back? 

Being a positive Jew comes with a responsibility to give back and help those around you – I really do believe this. By the numbers, Jews have always been an incredibly charitable group, and I think this speaks to our tradition. Practicing Tikkun Olam is and will be so important in light of the global challenges that we will face in the next several decades. 

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