While the COVID-19 pandemic has gripped the world, religious services have been the one thing to continue on strong.
Chabad of Culver City has done its part to continue to help those around the city celebrate and understand their Jewish faith.
Rabbi Levi Begun says that the initial view was that the virus would be gone before it would impact the Jewish faith — particularly the celebration of Passover.
“When the pandemic kicked in March, we actually had an event that was in the middle of March right before COVID was anything serious. It was the holiday of Puram, where we had a nice community event at the corner of Culver and Duquesne,” Begun recalled.
“When lockdowns started, Passover was quickly approaching. Every year, we have a nice community Passover Seder with anywhere between 30 and 50 people; last year we have close to 50 people. We were convinced that the virus would be gone by Passover, but as each day got closer, we realized it wasn’t going anywhere too quick.”
In response, Chabad Culver City wanted to help provide a similarly fulfilling Passover Seder for all, so they began collecting and making food to donate.
“We reached out to 100’s of families and provided Passover experiences at home, so people who couldn’t afford the full on Passover Seder that they would have at our table, we were able to do this for them,” Begun explained.
“We delivered handmade matza from Israel to 100’s of families, and it was something that we felt was so necessary.”
As the pandemic continued to evolve and it became clear that normal, in person programs would not be feasible in the near future, Chabad of Culver City took many of their programs digital.
In person Shabbat services that were held each week were converted to an ‘at-home’ style, delivering Shabbat packages to interested families with hallah, babka, chicken matza ball soup, and other accessories to celebrate Shabbat.
The program has been immensely successful, according to Begun.
“We have people who have requested a package every week from the time we launched to program to today,” Begun says.
“That’s something we felt like really changed and really enhanced so many Shabbats.”
Meals for seniors is also a point that the group has been focusing on. Begun would visit the Culver City Senior Center and other living centers every week to do a get together.
With that no longer possible, Chabad of Culver City is helping provide full on hot meals for seniors, which Begun helps more than just filling their bellies.
“Just knowing that we have their back, knowing that they have someone else to turn to really means so much to them.”
Another important Jewish holiday — Rosh Hashanah — came and went during the pandemic, but Chabad of Culver City was actually able to celebrate with others in a safe outdoor space, which Begun attests was invaluable.
“We felt the engagement between people that hadn’t seen each other in months was something I had never seen,” Begun remembers.
“People were waving to each other, smiling at each other, saying ‘how are you, I haven’t seen you in so long.’ You could hear it from almost a block away.”
“There aren’t so many opportunities to do this kind of thing safely and outdoors. So, it was something which we found to be so meaningful to people to actually be able to see people in the community that they hadn’t seen since March.
As the holiday season kicks off in full gear, Hanukkah quickly approaches as Passover did with no end to the pandemic in site.
California recently implemented a Stay-At-Home order in Los Angeles, but one of the exceptions is for religious services in outdoor areas.
This allows Chabad of Culver City to hold a modified Hanukkah celebration. The lighting of the first candle will be live streamed on Zoom on Dec. 10, and there will be an outdoor menorah lighting at the Platform on Dec. 13.
There will also be a menorah lighting on Dec. 17 via Facebook Live. Visit the Chabad of Culver City website at jewishculvercity.com for registration information, as well as more information on the organization itself and the programs it is holding.