Op-ed: How Orthodox Jewish moms are taking charge during the pandemic

Amber Adler
New York City Council candidate and mom-of-two Amber Adler.
Photo By Anna Rathkopf of Rathkopf Photography

By 8 am on every day but shabbos, the parent chats for the Yeshiva my young boys attend are already buzzing with comments on the most recent COVID-19 updates, new ideas and replies. Some days, this medley of discussions, news drops and brainstorming sessions last until nearly 1 am. It’s been this way since the pandemic arose this past March. 

Yet, the conversation is completely different than what you might expect if you follow the implications about the Jewish community’s response to the pandemic in some news outlets. That is why, I think it is important that I, an Orthodox Jewish Mother of two young boys in Yeshiva, explain what it is really like to live in one of the areas deemed a part of “the Ocean Parkway Cluster.”

This area is also a part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most recent proposal to close all schools and non-essential businesses in 11691, 11219, 11223, 11230, 11204, 11229, 11415 and 11367.

First and foremost, let’s debunk some misinformation. The Jewish community is NOT a community of complacency when it comes to COVID-19 precautions. We aren’t rebellious rule breakers with disregard to medical science. We are resilient problem solvers. And, right now, we are all focused on keeping our kids safe whether they are in or temporarily out of school, so they can get an education that also benefits their social emotional needs, provides the structure they need to flourish and fosters a wellness of mental health. 

To do this, parents have been reading, researching and reaching out to others to compare notes and come up with ideas to further assist in safety measures. We are keeping each other informed of not just what is going on at our children’s schools but also what’s going on inside other local classrooms. We have created and distributed lists of classroom closures to local moms within the community and countless families altered their recent Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot plans accordingly.

Additionally, behind the scenes, Jewish moms are relying on their friends and connecting on a deeper level more than ever. Since, I am very involved in the community and am well known for it, I have had countless mothers confide in me and tell me their mounting stress, anxieties and how completely terrified they are of the schools shutting down for an unknown amount of time. 

Many Yeshiva’s in the area I live in opened around Sept. 9. For parents, it has been easy to see how much being back in school, even briefly, has benefited children. Now more than ever, parents are willing to do what it takes to have a safe and in-person school year. Some groups of parents fundraised for additional items like freestanding, state of the art air purifiers to be added into classrooms. But, protecting our kids doesn’t end there.

After seeing the kinds of questions and fears that other parents from both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities are expressing, I’m proposing that we get proactive and take the next step by adding prevention methods data for every school to the “COVID-19 Report Card.” The New York State Department of Health website currently lists COVID-19 cases per school which includes public schools, private schools, charter schools, higher education institutions and state universities of New York. Tracking preventive measures per school would be an immediate benefit.

Imagine: by adding data related to prevention methods such as types of PPE (personal protective equipment) required by students, teachers and essential school staff, product usage and brand information, we can see what is working and what isn’t in real time. The New York City public school system alone has over 1 million students at over 1,800 schools — a huge sample size. By combining public and private school data, we could utilize what works and what doesn’t, and help inform our continued response to the virus.

This data could give us the ability to adapt at the first sign of strength or weakness in our prevention measure systems. This will both assist in keeping our kids safer and putting parents’ minds more at ease. It will also expand our knowledge of the virus and give insight into the best combinations of protection.

I’m currently in the process of proposing this system because our kids’ safety — and our battle against COVID-19 — is vital and time sensitive. We must work together to defeat this virus, because we are all in this together.

Amber Adler is a single Orthodox Jewish Mother of two young boys and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Communications from Ohio University. She is also a candidate for New York City Council in District 48.