Community Update: UJA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our entire community, along with much of the world, has been impacted by the pandemic. Jewish day schools have cancelled in-person classes and shifted to online learning. Our JCCs have closed. Many synagogues have ended in-person services, particularly following the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health request that all places of worship do so immediately. Here at UJA, we have cancelled all events, our ShinShinim have returned to Israel, and our staff are working remotely.

While the way we work has changed, we continue to operate at full capacity to deliver the services our community needs. UJA’s extensive reach through our network of agencies, our ability to quickly mobilize in response to new challenges, and our large-scale capacity to address the comprehensive needs of our community uniquely position us to make an impact.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of our incredible donors and the dedication of grassroots community members and our partner organizations. With their support, here are five ways UJA is working to build our collective resilience and help those in need during the pandemic:

  1. Mobilizing our community to help the vulnerable. We have expanded our annual Global Seder to include a significant investment in helping at-risk individuals and families in our community to get through the pandemic safely – before, during, and after Passover. We are getting ready to deliver supplies to those who are now living in isolation, either lacking the means to access groceries and medicine or facing greater vulnerability due to their age or health.

    We are launching a proactive telephone outreach program to check in on community members and identify those who may need help. We are also working on setting up a hotline through which community members can request assistance. We are awed by the extraordinary response to UJA’s call-to-action, which has already mobilized well over 200 donors and nearly 300 volunteers.

    If you would like to volunteer to help vulnerable community members access groceries or other essentials, or to make a gift to our expanded Global Seder, more details may be found here.

    If you or someone you know needs help, please email Ryla at

  2. Strengthening our agencies that support the most vulnerable. Our network of social service agencies is on the front lines of helping our community’s most vulnerable overcome this crisis. Recognizing the tremendous pressure their teams will be under in the coming weeks, we have prepaid our allocations to partner agencies for the month of April to ensure they have the resources they need. As the pandemic evolves, we are prepared to continue doing this in the months ahead, so that our agencies have the stable funding necessary to focus on their core responsibility: helping those in need.

  3. Supporting Jewish institutions across our city. In recent weeks, day schools, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions have been reaching out to us for guidance on appropriate health precautions. While encouraging institutions to connect directly with Toronto Public Health, we have been issuing regular updates to more than 130 institutions throughout the community, sharing best practices to facilitate a community-wide approach. While many institutions have cancelled programs or shifted to virtual activities over the past few days, our sense is that these updates helped many navigate this challenge in recent weeks.

  4. Keeping our community connected. So much of Jewish life revolves around gathering as a community. That sense of connection will be severely tested in the coming weeks, which is why we are developing webinar opportunities to enable community members to stay engaged. Our hope is that, with so many wisely staying at home, we can use technology to counter the psychological isolation that risks going hand-in-hand with physical separation. More details to come.
  5. Planning for our community’s evolving needs, now and for the long-term. As a hub for more than 100 agencies and organizations, UJA serves as the backbone of our community and has a unique vantage point. We are in ongoing communication with leaders in every sector of Jewish life in our city to determine the impact this crisis is having throughout our community. Our goal is to make sure we have a coordinated response not only to meeting the comprehensive needs of our community today, but ensuring we have an effective strategy for coming through this crisis with strength.

If you have ideas for how UJA can help our community get through this crisis, please do not hesitate to connect with us.