15 Feb Community Loan Fund a ‘Ray of Light’ for Italian Jews
In 2020, Italy was the first European country to have a major outbreak of COVID-19. The Jewish community in Rome, the world’s oldest Jewish community, was hit suddenly and severely by the pandemic. Many Jews became needy — whether due to the economic toll stemming from income loss or due to medical risk like the elderly population.
The President of the Jewish community in Rome, Ruth Dureghello, described the situation as a “depression” and a “nightmare.” As a result of decreased tourism and other economic factors, Rome’s Jewish community worried about what the future held, particularly for its Jewish day schools, the backbone of Jewish life. Of the 15,000 Jews in Rome, a high proportion attend Jewish schools: 85% in primary school, 65%-70% in middle school, and 45%-50% attend in high school.
“In the coming months, we will need to make very difficult decisions on where the scarce funds we have can go. As of now, emergency services and Jewish schools will be the first recipients,” said Dureghello a few months into the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
In response to the critical situation facing numerous Jewish communities worldwide, The Jewish Agency for Israel launched the COVID-19 Loan Fund for Communities in Crisis with partners the Jewish Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod as well as individual donors. This emergency fund helped Jewish institutions bridge immediate gaps in cash flow, enabling them to continue to function, provide services for their community members, and avoid complete collapse.
Immediately, the fund received over 80 loan applications from Jewish communities outside the US that were in dire need of financial relief, ranging from large centers of Jewish life in Italy, South Africa, Spain and Ukraine to smaller Jewish communities in Austria, Costa Rica, Greece and Paraguay.
“Thanks to The Jewish Agency’s loan fund, our community has been able to provide Kosher food and medicine to a large number of families and the elderly population living alone,” said Ruth. “Volunteers also brought kosher food to Covid patients who were quarantined in their homes, making isolated patients feel the caring of the community. Through these efforts, we not only provided basic essentials but also brought the community closer and strengthened it.”
In fact, two Jewish Agency shlichim (Israeli emissaries) in Rome, Oren and Hanan, were instrumental in serving the Jews in Italy during Covid. Hanan, the shaliach (Israeli emissary) to World Bnei Akiva, led a crowdfunding campaign that paid for food baskets to be delivered to hundreds of needy families within the community. And Oren, the shaliach to the Hashomer Hatzair World Movement, helped support young people and families within the Jewish community.
“In an extreme situation, like an outbreak of a pandemic, a Shaliach must still continue to serve his community,” said Oren. “I found ways to be meaningful and helpful by continuing to keep in touch with the children in the youth movement and moving to online activities as well as offering help to their parents.”
While COVID-19’s impact continues to reverberate throughout the Italian Jewish community, Ruth is proud of how the global Jewish community reacted and thankful for the loan from The Jewish Agency.
“The Jewish Agency supported us by providing funds and vital and basic supplies. We are all grateful for that. The difficult and sad situation has become a ray of light and a testament to the endless solidarity of the Jewish people,” shared Ruth.