A Message From Our CEO on Avodah’s Response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Published Mar 12, 2020


To our Avodah community:

I hope that this message finds you and your families well during this challenging time. 

I’m writing to provide you with an update regarding Avodah’s response to COVID-19 (coronavirus), and to share some resources that may be helpful as we all try to do our part to keep our participants, staff and communities healthy. At this time, we have no known cases of the virus within the Avodah community. 

We are closely monitoring the situation and taking the following steps:

  • After multiple conversations with medical professionals and public health experts, we decided to cancel our Service Corps National Retreat, which is an annual gathering of all of our Corps Members from across the country for a weekend of learning and community building. While this gathering is a highlight of the program year, we concluded that it could possibly have placed our Corps Members, as well as the people they serve through their placements, at greater risk. Therefore, we reluctantly decided to cancel the gathering. We are actively assessing whether it will be possible to reschedule the National Retreat at a future date. 
  • We created a COVID-19 Task Force, which meets daily to assess the latest developments, to liaise with medical and public health advisors, and to coordinate our response with our participants and partners. All members of Avodah’s senior staff, including me, are part of the Task Force. 
  • We have purchased cleaning supplies and emergency food for all Avodah Service Corps residences, and are creating protocols for various scenarios. Our Service Corps Program Directors are working closely with our participants to prepare for the possibility that some of the Corps Members may need to self-quarantine if they suspect that they’ve been exposed to the virus. We are also drafting specific protocols to prepare for the possibility of one or more Corps Members testing positive for the virus. 
  • We are moving some of Jewish Service Corps, Justice Fellowship, Alumni and Community Engagement programming online. We are making this decision on a city-by-city basis, based on our regular review of the risks in each of our communities, as well as government recommendations. In terms of our public events, we are closely monitoring CDC and local government guidelines and moving online, postponing or cancelling events as appropriate. 
  • We are taking multiple steps to help our Corps Members, their colleagues, and the populations they serve to reduce their risk of exposure. Those steps include: encouraging our Service Corps placement partners to, whenever possible, allow Corps Members to serve remotely or commute during non-rush hour times. Some of our Corps Members work with elderly populations, or in clinics or other healthcare contexts. We’re working with their placement organizations to ensure the Corps Members are taking all appropriate precautions, including the CDC’s guidelines for People at Higher Risk and Special Populations
  • We are identifying needs from our partner organizations that are on the front line working with vulnerable populations.  Many staff at these organizations are essential to providing food, medication, housing or other core needs, and we want to understand how Avodah and our larger community can help them.  We will be sharing out needs and ways you can help as we learn.
  • We have supplemented Avodah’s Economic Accessibility Fund to ensure that our participants have all of the resources they need right now. We have communicated to our Corps Members that we are committed to ensuring that financial concerns are not a barrier to their health and well being. If you would like to help support the Economic Accessibility Fund, please click here
  • Avodah staff across the U.S. have the option to work from home and are being equipped with the technology necessary for telecommuting. We are also following all best practices and the latest health protocols in keeping our office surfaces clean and avoiding unnecessary travel.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in regards to the COVID-19 virus and the constant flow of new information to navigate. We’re looking at opportunities to create and strengthen community and learn together in this moment and will be circling back with more information soon.We encourage you to reach out to us with questions or thoughts on how the Avodah community can support you. Whether providing relief from isolation during this period of “social distancing,” sharing ways to virtually plug-in to Jewish learning or community, and/or navigating increasing disruptions to daily life, we are committed to finding ways to support one another during this stressful time. If you have thoughts or could use support, please reach out.

Additionally, we understand that moments like this are even harder for vulnerable or oppressed populations. Xenophobia and anti-Asian discrimination is rising, healthcare costs may inhibit people from seeking medical care, canceled events and emphasis on avoiding crowds are squeezing the gig economy and low-paid workers, and those who face food insecurity will likely have a harder time accessing food supplies as schools close and cans fly off the shelves (the best way to support your local food bank is to donate money, which you can do here). Furthermore, millions of hourly workers in our country don’t have access to paid sick leave. And while the best medical advice is to avoid crowds, those living in homeless shelters or under confinement in prisons, jails, and immigrant detention camps, are especially vulnerable while living in crowded conditions without access to basic preventatives like soap and hand sanitizer — even as they’re being required to make it. 

The spread of coronavirus will only continue to highlight the inequalities in our healthcare and economic structures. As always, and especially in this moment, we are committed to supporting our communities, placement organizations, and participants who are responding to this pandemic. You can help us serve more people in this crisis and beyond by providing your support here.

The month of Adar, when we celebrate Purim, is said to be a time of joy or simcha. While feeling joyous during these uncertain times may come with challenges, we still believe that we can create a world in which all people are able to meet their physical, spiritual, and material needs to be safe and supported in the pursuit of happiness.

With gratitude and refuah shlema, blessings for health and healing.

Cheryl Cook

CEO, Avodah


Here are some resources we’ve found on how to care for our communities in this moment:


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