It all started with a concern, expressed by Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits of Jerusalem’s Sanhedria Murhevet neighborhood and Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah, that community members entering bidud (quarantine) will need help to enable them to stay indoors for 14 days.

Without this help, households in quarantine might have no way to manage many tasks of daily living, such as getting food, getting rid of their trash and picking up mail. Rabbi Berkovits encouraged his community to arrange for this kind of assistance for neighbors in need.

His call was answered by community member Rabbi Yosef Y. Ettlinger, who teaches at Aish HaTorah. Inspired by his parents’ tradition of community service in their hometown neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York, Ettlinger commented, “My father told me, ‘When something has to get done, you do it. You do what you can. Leave the rest to the Almighty.’”

Comfortable working with computers, Ettlinger took on the role of coordinating between volunteers and people in need. Initially, he created a simple Google doc. “Within five days, we had 10-15 families in the community that needed help and double the amount of volunteers,” he noted.

Inspired both by Rabbi Berkovits’s sensitivity to the needs of his community and by the enthusiastic response from prospective volunteers, Ettlinger’s vision quickly expanded.

“If we’re already doing this,” he thought, “let me create a platform where we can share pertinent information with other communities.”

Enter 20-year-old Meir Roth, whose father, Rabbi Dan Roth, is a student of Rabbi Berkovits. The younger Roth studies at Machon Lev and is currently on a break from classes. He volunteered his time to build a website for Ettlinger’s project, now called GoBidud.com.

In his free time, Roth also built CoronaIsrael.live, which is “a live updating dashboard that shows, in a clear and organized way, the number of local and global coronavirus cases with active, recoveries and death rate statistics.” He is currently working on an English version that will include the number of cases in each city in Israel.

“I created CoronaIsrael.live with the goal of giving people a clear view of the current COVID-19 pandemic situation and hopefully making people realize how serious it is and how we have to all work together to stop the spread,” he explained.

What started out as a local effort in Sanhedria Murhevet has spread to many Jerusalem neighborhoods, including Arzei Habira, Givat Hamivtar, Ma’alot Dafna, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, Romema, Givat Ze’ev and Betar.

Rabbi Yosef Ettlinger, Credit: Faigie's Photography

"We’re facilitating needs like trash and shopping, but we’re giving people the opportunity to share and care," Ettlinger says. “COVID-19 brought the inability to share. That’s destroying a basic element of humanity. God created society with the ability to share. It’s emotionally crushing to be prevented from sharing. When you do hessed (kind acts), you become a conduit for God’s hessed.

“We’re living in a time where there are destructive forces in the world. We’re breathing it in. The antibody for this is kindness, because when you create kindness, it’s infectious, it’s contagious. The excitement that I’ve discovered comes from people who have a portal to share their heart with other people.”

GoBidud.com’s secret sauce is the team of community coordinators. These are individuals who live in the community being served and who, in many cases, know the recipients and the volunteers personally. Community coordinators, sensitive to the needs of their own communities, are able to recruit volunteers through local WhatsApp and Facebook groups.

For now, GoBidud.com is in English, but Ettlinger would love to find someone to translate the site into Hebrew and other languages. In fact, he hopes the project will eventually spread worldwide.

Services offered include running errands, taking out people’s garbage, doing their shopping, delivering care packages to children, checking in by phone with people in quarantine, helping with bureaucratic needs, helping people find appropriate places to quarantine, delivering important packages and praying for the health of others.

Bidud Buddies is a GoBidud.com initiative created by Shoshana Malka Lamm. She explained, “We help out families in partial or full quarantine, with an extra emphasis on providing entertainment and recreation for elementary school-aged kids. Our focus is on making it easier for [families] in partial quarantine, with one bored kid home for two weeks while his or her other siblings all get to play outside.

“We have an active lending library of toys, books, games and more. We also arrange a small care package of crafts, candy and snacks to send to families with kids in quarantine. We quarantine and disinfect items in between uses.

“We want families to feel that they are not experiencing quarantine alone. For this reason our tagline is ‘Bidud Buddies: Helping weather the bidud together, apart.’”

As GoBidud.com grows, plans are already being developed to offer psychological support and a dog-walking service.

“Every day, were broadening in scope and reach,” Ettlinger commented.

For Mom, Credit: Faigie's Photography

GoBidud.com established six funds to help pay for social services. They include funds for rent relief, new mothers, food, children’s care packages, students and the administrative costs of running GoBidud.com.

GoBidud.com has volunteers of all ages and abilities. “Everyone gives in their own way. We’re creating a platform for people to care and share. With technology, we’re able to bond together,” he noted.

They face an interesting challenge at this stage in their development. “We have more trouble getting people to request help than volunteers. We have a disproportionate group of volunteers,” Ettlinger explained.

What started with responding to COVID-19 won’t end there. “It’s a necessity that has to continue. I don’t know the future, but this is the dawn of a new beginning. We are countering COVID with KBU antibodies – kindness, brotherhood and unity,” he concluded.

To personalize GoBidud.com for your community, email contact@gobidud.com.

Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post. Originally published: In Jerusalem section, July 17, 2020.