By Nira Dayanim
When COVID-19 cases began to rise at this university, many groups were affected, including the Jewish community. The Kedma board (the leadership of the Orthodox community on campus) quickly realized there wasn’t an effective communication method in place for pandemic-related news.
During the second week of the semester, the board created a WhatsApp group chat to provide a centralized source of information.
“We felt that making a group chat could keep everyone informed and allow everyone to make decisions about when to isolate,” said Kedma board treasurer and junior mechanical engineering major Eitan Galper.
According to Galper, “At first there were a lot of rumors about who had it, and nobody really knew what was true. Now, everyone with a confirmed case fills out a Google form and I’ll text them to verify the information and check if they’re ok with their names being shared.”
Six weeks later, this group chat, titled ‘Kedma COVID Notifications,’ has over 250 participants. Community members seem to really appreciate the accuracy and speed with which information is delivered.
“It makes me feel safer because people are aware of how fast COVID spreads and know that our community isn’t immune to it,” junior kinesiology major Maya Greenbaum said.
Ayelet Fried, a freshman letters and sciences student, agrees that having more information about COVID-19 cases on campus makes her feel safer.
Community members also value the Whatsapp group because it facilitates efficient contact tracing.
“I think it has practical value. Knowing who around you has it helps you know to isolate and how you can help other people,” said junior psychology major, Rebecca Ashkenazy. “It strengthens the community because we all know what’s going on.”
‘Kedma COVID-19 Notifications’ has earned the community’s respect and gratitude. However, it also raises questions about whether a person’s privacy or the community’s ability to effectively contact trace takes precedence.
Ashkenazy consented to her name being shared in the group following her positive COVID-19 test result in late September.
“Even though there is a bit of a stigma, it was kind of a no brainer for me to share that information… the more people that share their name and their diagnosis, the more comfortable people will feel doing so and the more transparency there will be in the community,” Ashkenazy said.
According to Ashkenazy, beyond helping her community, sharing her name had added benefits. She received immense support for disclosing her identity.
“A ton of people texted me,” Askenazy said. “Rabbi Backman and Rabbi Israel reached out, and many people I don’t usually talk to reached out to see if I was ok and if they could bring me food,” Ashkenazy said.
This university’s Jewish community is facing countless unprecedented circumstances this year. However, despite the challenges, they are still coming together as a community and rising to the occasion.
“I feel like the group chat is a great example of collective responsibility in the Jewish community. We’re all really looking out for one another and taking care of each other,” said Ayelet Fried. “People are doing their part to keep everyone informed and make it feel like we’re part of a safe, COVID-friendly community.”