To: Sally Gottesman
From: Leah Silver
Subject: My Messy Pesach Thoughts
If I’ve learned anything in the last two months, it’s that no New Yorker should be written off as “resistant” to the vaccine simply because they have yet to sign up. In the school world we often say that every student will do well if they can. So, too, I believe that every person will get the vaccine if they can. We’ve seen our city write off so many folks, claiming “they just won’t get it.” But that’s not the story we’re seeing in the BJ vaccination volunteer group. What has been so incredible about BJ’s vaccine work, under Oriyan Gitig Schwartz’s incredible leadership, is that we are removing as many barriers as we possibly can to get the vaccine. We are meeting people where they are in this sticky, stressful, and complicated process. And as a result, people are getting vaccinated.
Can’t sit in front of your computer hitting refresh all day? We will.
Can’t understand all the forms? Our volunteers will fill them out.
Can’t get to the appointment? Our volunteers can take you.
Too difficult to email us? Text us.
Can’t text? You can call us.
English isn’t your first language? We can help.
This, I believe, is what it means to see ourselves—to show ourselves—as ones who personally left Egypt. Friends have asked me why we’re so accommodating to people when it comes to booking their appointments. Don’t get me wrong—nothing makes me happier than to see “any day, any borough, any time!” at the end of a text or email request. And while I sometimes get frustrated by the folks who share that they can only go on Tuesdays between 9-11am, I remind myself that they, too, have a story. And for whatever reason it may be, they need their vaccine on Tuesday. So like everyone else, they get matched with one of our incredible volunteers who will, no doubt, find an appointment at 10am on Tuesday.
In the lead-up to Passover, I was definitely having unwelcomed anxiety about spending so much time away from booking appointments. Then, on the morning of March 25, thousands of appointments opened up, enabling us to get appointments for almost everyone on our current lists and get ready for new people who will text and email in. It felt a little miraculous. I’ve been attached, with the exception of a short 25-hour respite each week, to text threads and email chains and WhatsApp groups helping to secure appointments. But I’m also experiencing Passover with a tremendous sense of hope. With every appointment we book, I can feel our city moving from the narrow place of sickness, struggle, and grief, and into the expansive world of hugs, Shabbat dinners, and safe travels. We’ve booked the elderly and vulnerable folks in our community. We’ve booked countless doormen, grocery workers, folks with underlying medical conditions, and folks whose access to technology is limited. Our volunteers have accompanied people to appointments, provided language assistance, pushed wheelchairs, arranged transportation. And this is all under the leadership of Oriyan, who treats every single email that comes in as an urgent matter from a member of her own family who needs help.
We’re getting there. We really are.
I believe that what BJ has been able to do throughout the last few months for folks who need vaccines has actually been years in the making. It’s a holy combination. It’s staff and clergy like Rabbi Shuli Passow, who are both professionally trained and tremendously gifted in organizing community. It’s leaders like Oriyan who see a need and run farther than anyone could. And it’s the many volunteers whose moral conscience has been cultivated by this holy community so that, when the time comes, they respond en masse.
I’m grateful, in awe, and feel abundant love for this community—this year more than ever. May this community continue to rise up in strength, realizing that achieving freedom is as much in our own hands as it is in The Holy One’s—and roll up our sleeves to do the work to pull everyone through to the other side.
* Image caption: Leah’s second dose appointment in east Harlem on February 10. Leah was vaccinated early as a teacher, and by the time of her second dose the BJ volunteer efforts were in full swing.