More than 5,000 people tuned in as the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Yachad, the leading organization for individuals with disabilities in the Orthodox community, raised $150,000 during its virtual “Battle of the Singers.” The event featured entertainers Benny Friedman and Mordechai Shapiro. Meir Kay served as master of ceremonies, and Mendy Hershkowitz played the piano.
Friedman and Shapiro brought their “A-Game” and battled it out with their signature songs in an effort to raise awareness of the critical support and programming that Yachad has been providing to families with children with special needs during COVID-19. Shapiro also premiered an updated version of his hit song B’Yachad, which was originally released in 2017. The new lyrics reflect how Yachad is still bringing people together and caring for others even in isolation during COVID-19. The new lyrics were written by Mordechai’s sister, Sorah Shaffren from Bergen County, New Jersey.
Proceeds from the program will benefit Yachad’s international efforts to help individuals with disabilities and their families combat social isolation during COVID-19. It will go toward virtual programming that the group will roll out over the coming months.
“As a result of COVID-19, three of our gala fundraisers were canceled, and so our team came up with a creative approach to fundraise for our programs while also producing an entertaining show that families could watch together. The feedback and results were tremendous and we are so appreciative of the time and effort of the performers and the attendees who participated and supported us,” said International Yachad Director Avromie Adler.
“Yachad is a cornerstone program of the OU and plays a critical role in Jewish communities across the country by providing programming, services, and Torah education to participants and their families. We are grateful that so many people recognize this and chose to lend their financial support during the virtual fundraiser to help support this important work,” said OU President Moishe Bane.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the OU has worked tirelessly to serve all of our communities, especially those with special needs for whom social distancing has been especially difficult,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “We are grateful to all of those who joined us for this event and helped donate toward our continued virtual programming for Yachad participants.”
Project Community: Summer Experience for Teens
With camp, travel, and NCSY summer programs canceled as a result of the pandemic, the Orthodox Union (OU) has created Project Community 2020 (PC20), a summer initiative focused on engaging teens, college students, and Yachad members. Launching across the U.S. and Canada on July 6, in conjunction with the OU’s NCSY, Yachad, and OU-JLIC, PC20 offers teens recreation combined with Jewish learning and volunteer opportunities to bring support to local communities.
“During a time like this, the OU’s mission of supporting the community’s needs is more critical than ever before. Project Community looks to do this by engaging our teens, college students, and Yachad members to help our community respond to this crisis. Our youth will be critical players in meeting the needs of others and experience the incomparable taste of making a difference in the lives of our community leading, hopefully, to a life of such service,” added Orthodox Union incoming executive vice president, Rabbi Moshe Hauer.
“The closure of summer camp programs this summer has left thousands of teens across North America with a desperate need for structured programming, and there is a desire from these teens and their parents to participate in Torah learning opportunities as well as help the community prevail over this unprecedented disruption,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane. “The OU is proud to have brought together all of our departments to develop Project Community 2020 as a way to engage our teens and address our community needs as we rebuild after this pandemic.”
The New York program will include versions of Kollel and Michlelet, both based in Five Towns and aimed at providing teens with morning religious programming including prayer and learning, similar to the way the NCSY summer programs bearing the same names operate in Israel. The programs will also include sports and recreational activities in the morning and two nights of activities each week that will be planned dynamically as the area continues to reopen.
In the afternoons, teens will have a variety of volunteering opportunities, including having teens participate in building a house in Long Beach with Habitat for Humanity. Weekly programs will also operate in Queens and Brooklyn.
“Our goal is fairly simple, to provide opportunities for our teens to come back together as a community,” said NCSY summer director David Cutler, who is overseeing the state’s programs. “Our hope is that the program maximizes our participants’ ability to have fun together, learn together, volunteer together, and ultimately grow together as our communities reemerge from our shutdowns.”
All programs will be run in accordance with state and local health requirements. For more information, please visit PC20.org.
Women From 6 Countries Join OU Women’s Initiative Virtual Summit
More than 150 women attended the OU Women’s Initiative virtual summit recently to discuss pressing issues for Jewish communal leaders as they plan for the post-COVID-19 impact to their organizations. Participants hailed from 78 communities around the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. The summit was designed to provide female lay leaders with a platform to learn and network with others who are facing the same issue as Jewish communal organizations around the world are feeling the economic impact of COVID-19.
With new challenges facing Jewish organizations every day as a result of COVID-19, the summit provided an opportunity for participants to learn how to adapt and adjust their organizations’ programming, operations, and fundraising models with a like-minded community of learners. Sessions focused on current program challenges and ideas, reimagining program needs and formats post COVID-19, the long-term impact of virtual programming and virtual meetings, and the effects on interpersonal dynamics. Additional sessions focused on the long-term impact on current organizational economic models, fundraising with sensitivity, COVID-19’s impact on fundraising and reimagining organizations, and their goals and missions in response to a new reality.
Expert lecturers, educators, and leaders in the field — including Erica Brown, Michelle Brody, Rachel Cyrulnik, Amy Katz, Leslie Ginsparg Klein, and Adina Morris — delivered workshops, sessions, and other presentations throughout the program.
“The Summit was extremely timely and effective in addressing the communal needs and concerns of the moment,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane. “Once again, the Women’s Initiative created an event offering engaging and thoughtful topics, presented by best-in-class speakers. In addressing challenges posed by the pandemic and its economic aftershocks, Summit participants were afforded the opportunity to share best practices and insights to employ in their respective communities and organizations.”
“This year we took the program virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we also wanted to gear the sessions toward the topic that’s on everyone’s mind—how to lead their organizations successfully through COVID-19 and how to rebound successfully afterwards,” said founding director of the OU Women’s Initiative Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman. “It was inspiring to see a group of women from different backgrounds and communities come together to support one another and learn from these experts. Together, we reimagined new strategies for our organizations’ missions, programming, and financial well-being.”