Yidishland Covid Solidarity Letter
JCRN stands in solidarity with the following letter, posted May 17, 2023.
To add your own signature to this letter, click here.
Below is an open letter to the people and organizations who present and produce the Yiddish world's gatherings and events in North America. It’s an invitation to take the ongoing COVID pandemic seriously, and to move forward in sensible ways that keeps us all safe. It was written by a group of longtime participants in the Yiddish cultural world, and its initial signatories are from a wide cross-section of the community (it will remain open for new signatures for some time after this public release).
We hope that you will take up this call and reach out if we can support as you / your organizations pursue this work of building a vibrant and accessible community of care that protects everyone’s long-term health and life.
Mit vareme grusn un a hartsikn dank!
Tayere yidishlanders – event producers, kultur-tuers, organization leaders, festival programmers, un azoy vayter! Sholem aleykhem; friling iz gekumen!
The connections we’ve made thanks to your cultural work have been profoundly meaningful in our lives. We know there’s endless labor that goes into all you do, that’s often not seen, and that you’re likely gearing up for what will hopefully be a memorable summer.
Amidst this, your organization may also be swept up in the rush to ‘return to normal,’ even as the pandemic goes on, with new virulent variants and thousands of people dying and becoming disabled each month. We’re writing to get ahead of this – to not simply fill out your evaluation forms after events, but to bring some recommendations in advance. Our aim, and we hope yours as well, is to make sure yidishland remains accessible to all of us instead of leaving more and more folks behind; to keep our svive healthy and whole; and to preserve the precious older links of di goldene keyt long into the next generation’s lives.
Our group of signatories spans geographies, connected by the growing network of disability-justice-oriented Yiddishland folks. Some of us met through online community these past few years, while others are longtime yiddish students, artists, and cultural workers.
Some of us are signing this letter because we’re chronically ill, disabled, immunocompromised and/or are at higher risk of death or Long Covid.
Some because we’re living with Long Covid, and recognize that repeat infections worsen symptoms and outcomes.
Some of us have close friends and family in these prior categories. Some of us know we’re at a higher risk simply based on our age. Some of us know that we might have yet-to-be-diagnosed reasons for specific concern about how a Covid infection – or another Covid infection – would affect us.
Some of us are health researchers and other healthcare workers and providers who’ve watched Covid severely impact our patients, colleagues and communities.
And for others of us, we simply know that solidarishkayt means showing up for each other. That we can and must do better at caring and protecting our beloved svive, and that it’s never too late to improve and expand Covid protections.
Our sincere hope is that we can turn the tide and allow all of us to be present once again in yidishland as full community members.
When there are masking requirements at events, we’ve witnessed time and again a failure of producers, organizers, staff, and emcees to model and uphold the Covid safety guidelines set and advertised by the hosting organization, and consistently seen many unmasked participants even when an event’s publicity claimed masks would be required.
We’ve also seen performers and hosts at in-person concerts and events commenting on the irrelevance of live streams, and being "over" virtual and hybrid events. This doubles down on the refusal to actually practice announced safety precautions, and is an active choice to dismiss and alienate (and often, in the tone of these comments, to mock) those of us who are not being provided any safe way to attend in-person events, and those of us whose only safe option is to attend online.
Even where events are set up to be hybrid or live-streamed, we’ve been increasingly disappointed by the frequent (though not universal) neglect of meaningful online access: cameras left unmonitored, allowing people to block online audiences’ access; audio issues left unresolved, rendering nominal access meaningless. We understand that tech issues are often unavoidable, but early testing and troubleshooting is a basic sign of whether or not inclusion of online participation is a genuine priority.
Similarly, we’ve increasingly seen decisions about Covid precautions made as an afterthought, well after the event is being advertised and even near to the timing of the event itself, with wavering commitment to specifics (that often are hard to learn about), and feel dismissive to many people’s need to plan in advance around access.
Online events make vital cultural and social resources accessible to our entire community — including not only people most directly impacted by Covid, but also our broader international community, colleagues unable to travel or take time off work, and parents of young children. We know all of you have meaningful experience holding such events, because you did so for at least the first year of the pandemic — and we remember you pointing out the benefits of doing so, in very much the terms we’re outlining here.
As municipal, state, and federal agencies continue to dismantle even the minimal public health protections and supports they had put in place (from mask mandates to free and convenient Covid testing to food stamp cuts), it's even more crucial that we act as communities to protect each other effectively and connect virtually whenever possible. Setting in-person events as the ultimate goal hurts everyone, and especially excludes many who make our svive whole.
In 2023 and beyond, we envision yiddish cultural events with improved safety practices and expanded online offerings.
Expanding hybrid programming and engagement:
Creating more opportunities for hybrid interaction: remote presentations to the in-person audiences; more interactive engagement with online audiences during live events; ways for people in-person to easily join in online; direct engagement with online audiences during dead-air times like performance transitions.
Active support for off-site artists with merchandise sales etc.
Choosing in-person venues that facilitate participation in online programming for people also attending in-person (through solid internet access, places to sit/participate in online workshops, etc.).
Expanding online programming (providing a range of options).
Ensuring that the streamed/hybrid aspects of in-person events are working properly, with thoughtful camera placement, active monitoring throughout the event, and attention to sound quality.
Improving Covid safety protocols and coordination when events must be in-person:
Following up-to-date best practices for safer gatherings as outlined by public-health groups like The People’s CDC (see especially their People’s CDC Guide to Safer In-Person Gatherings) and workplace Covid safety guidelines from performance arts unions (like film and television).
Drawing on, and sharing, culturally relevant resources such as the Jewish Covid Resilience Network.
Designating point people at events to ensure masking, orient participants about policies before the event, and support general safety logistics (e.g., CO2 monitoring and adjusting ventilation, etc.) during events.
Creating a culture of safety and inclusion:
Orienting staff and faculty to the broader reasons why Covid safety and inclusion matter for everyone, and how this connects with producing organizations’ missions and community roles.
Training on Covid safety and protocols for event leadership (teachers, performers, emcees, festival organizers and staff).
Including among other things: clear reminders that emcees, stagehands, and other support staff should practice masking as well as audience members; and building an awareness of when a room has reached its capacity.
Refraining from endorsing or publicizing unmasked after-parties or events (including events with indoor eating/drinking — which are, for all practical purposes, unmasked events).
Making Covid safety and access practices publicly available and easy to find online and in written materials, so they can be referred to throughout events.
Raising awareness around, and prioritizing the booking of artists/cultural workers who can’t, for Covid or other reasons, perform in-person.
Avoiding comments and anecdotes that are dismissive of the ongoing pandemic and the practices that keep us safe during it, or otherwise alienating for people attending online.
The unfortunate reality is that unsafe gatherings actively contribute to ongoing transmission of a virus that has long-term effects made worse by each re-infection, and which is killing thousands of people each month in North America alone. A yidishland with comprehensive Covid safety mitigation pays endless dividends in flexibility, access, connection, growth, longevity, and safety. Lomir es makhn.
Laura Rosenberg, KlezCalifornia board chair, Workers Circle Branch 1054 board vice-chair
Sasha Berenstein, Queer Yiddish Camp
Alice Kostin, member, Kehilla Community Synagogue
Harvey Niebulski, NW Folklife, Kaiser Permanente
Morgan Holleb / מישע האָלעב, pink peacock / די ראָזעעווע פּאַווע
Kathryn Hellerstein, University of Pennsylvania
Hinde Ena Burstin, Yiddish teacher and community organiser, Naarm Melbourne
Jonah (Yoyneh Hersh) Boyarin
Zohar Weiman-Kelman, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Hy Wolfe (aka khayem volf), TSYKO - CYCO Central Yiddish Culture Organization
Cantor Rachel Weston
Mona Pollack, Boston Workers Circle
Andy Muchin, Host & producer, "Sounds Jewish" radio show on MPB Music Radio and PRX
freygl gertsovski, Queer Yiddish Camp; Rad Yiddish
rosza daniel lang/levitsky, Klezmer Institute (Board); Queer Yiddish Camp (Advisory Board); CYCO
Mai Li Pittard (Miles), Seattle Yiddishist, Yiddish culture instructor & Klezmer Musician (The Debaucherauntes)
Baya “Simcha” Walls
Mal(colm) Rehberger, CYCO, sometime of Aftselokhs Purimspiel
Bruce Tiggs, Vancouver Co-op Radio, Accordion Noir Festival
[affiliations for identification purposes only]