The past six months were truly those to be written down in history books. From an unprecedented virus, to all schools and businesses shutting down, the world entered a seemingly endless standstill. However, the students of the Jewish Students Association at St. John’s University never stopped moving. Having their last, unexpected in-person event being the Purim party and having ended their virtual semester in mid-May, JSA welcomed their new executive board, who went straight to work in organizing JSA’s very own COVID-19 relief effort.
The new executive board consisted of President Nina Aranbaev, Vice-President Arik Sionov, Secretary Gabriella Borukhov, Treasurer Sharona Priyev, Outreach Coordinator Rachel Munarov, Philanthropy Chair Elana Pinchasow, Manager Adam Leviyev, Social Media Chair Josh Abayev, Religious Chair Julie Malakov, Graphic Design Coordinator Steven Kalontar, Fundraising Chair Michelle Aronbayev, and Male Outreach Coordinator Ethan Kazakov. They first took to their social media pages and organization contacts in order to raise funds that can be used to buy and deliver groceries to those who couldn’t leave their homes or who were financially unstable. During the two weeks of fundraising, the board also made many phone calls in their search for anyone who needed help in the community and found out exactly what they needed. JSA was special in that it did not establish a standard care package that everyone would receive, but rather gave each person the items they and their families asked for. “We knew not everyone needed the same thing,” stated President Nina Aranbaev. “And we had the funds for the amount of people we needed to deliver to, so we decided to curate each package according to what each person specifically needed and I think that turned out to be very beneficial.”
In addition to their own delivery effort, the executive board of JSA volunteered to help Rabbi Shlomo Nissanov and his food pantry, Kehilat Sephardim of Ahavat Achim, to distribute their care packages. “It honestly felt amazing to be a part of the pantry for a day,” states Secretary Gabriella Borukhov. “We had about four teams of 2 deliver almost 10 packages each! It was great to finally get out there and help the community!” Fundraising Chair Michelle Aronbayev seconded this and said “It felt amazing to be there and help. The pantry was so welcoming to us as volunteers and doing the deliveries was the best feeling ever because while we weren’t on the frontlines, we were truly helping people get what they needed. The smiles on everyone’s face when we were on their doorstep proved that!”
However, helping during the COVID-19 crisis didn’t end with the grocery shopping and volunteering at the pantry. JSA also partnered with the Alliance of Bukharian Americans (ABA) Health Committee to host a live Zoom event explaining how people can stay safe during the July 4th weekend and help others during times like these. Sponsored by the ABA, JSA proposed and designed mini hand sanitizer bottles that were delivered to people who joined the Zoom meeting. Chair Person of the ABA Health Committee Sam Sabzanov stated, “It was great working with JSA and the hand sanitizers were a really good idea as little things like this come in handy even more so today.” As a mantra of JSA these past couple of months, the hand sanitizers read “Spread joy, not germs!”
After this eventful summer, while not unexpected, it was difficult to find out that St. John’s would not hold any in-person events on or off campus this fall semester, pushing all meetings and events to virtual platforms. However, just as JSA refused to stop working over the summer, it wouldn’t stop working now. As soon as the regulations and details were confirmed, the executive board met for hours at a time to figure out how to hold meetings/events over Zoom while still keeping them engaging and interactive with a large attendance rate as in prior years. Vice President Arik Sionov stated, “We essentially had to rewrite the whole script for the semester. This is the first time ever doing something like this, so there really isn’t much to work off of from previous years. It was definitely a challenge to figure everything out, but after meeting with the board several times, we feel confident that we know what to do now.” As explained by Vice President Arik Sionov, JSA has decided to push for quality over quantity. Knowing that people wouldn’t be so encouraged to join a weekly Zoom meeting, JSA will be organizing five to six major virtual events and hopes to host great speakers. Currently in the works are Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Chanukah events, a virtual challah bake with Charlene Aminoff, and a gameshow with breathtaking prizes. Additionally, the executive board has started to strengthen relations between other nearby Jewish student organizations at Queens College, Baruch, and LIU in order to collaborate on all these events. Virtual events may not seem appealing, but JSA will work with these campuses and famous speakers to make sure these are events nobody would want to miss. Finally, these times call for personalized masks and JSA is already in the process of ordering custom made masks for its students! “Despite these circumstances,” President Nina Aranbaev states, “we have a lot of fun things planned, so stay safe and stay tuned!” We are living in difficult times, but we can leave it to JSA to keep this semester eventful and to spread joy, not germs.
By Sharona Priyev
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