As of the beginning of December 2020, we had
As soon as the JCC shut its doors, our staff immediately pivoted, working nonstop to shift programming to the online space and introduce innovative ways to stay in touch and engage with our community members.
For example, we introduced weekly Saturday night digital story sessions in which Zsuzsa Fritz (director of the Jewish Knowledge Center) hosted animations of popular Biblical stories and fairy tales. We also created a virtual Bibliodrama group and are organizing weekly Shabbat candle lighting ceremonies, often led by younger community members.
The need to cancel in-person holiday programming was one of the hardest aspects of the Coronavirus shut-downs. It also proved to be one of our greatest strengths, as our staff created (and continues to create) stellar programming that enables JCC members to bring the holidays into their homes.
For Passover, celebrated just a few weeks after we halted in-person activities, we created an interactive online Haggadah – “Seder in Seven Clicks.” This Seder guide was specifically tailored to people who were hosting a Seder for the first time. Over 1,000 people opened the Haggadah and nearly 100 groups went through all seven steps.
With the assistance of the Jewish Knowledge Center, we are also creating quality websites for each holiday with all the must-knows, useful information, games, recipes, guides and ideas for celebrating the particular holiday at home.
For Chanukah, we created a variety of programs which community members can choose from. For example, we collaborated with Judapest, a unique Jewish gift store, to create Chanukah Home Kits including essentials like Chanukah candles and a dreidel. We also announced a community Donut Challenge where families can gift home-made donuts to another family while also receiving a batch of home-made desserts from another participating family.
On Shavuot, traditionally marked with all-night long Torah-study sessions, we hosted an online learning festival in partnership with Limmud Hungary. Nearly 1,000 people tuned in to hear religious scholars, journalists, and heads of NGOs speak about “Heroes for Today”.
Looking to the future, we hope to tap into this demand and offer more opportunities for community members to bring the holidays home.
New JCC Director, Marcell Kenesei, who is introduced in more detail later in this report, explains:
“Engaging families through holidays is a really strong way to connect people…we want to deepen our holiday programming and give families the tools to bring the holidays into their homes, so that Jewish life extends beyond the JCC and into the home.“
While initially we feared that attendance at “events-gone-virtual” would decrease, the opposite proved to be the case. In fact, during the spring of 2020, we engaged almost 700% more followers on Facebook than in spring 2019.
Many Facebook users who were not connected with the JCC prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, saw our events on their feeds and clicked through to the content. Especially popular are our weekly Shabbat candle-lighting and Havdalah livestreams, which are led by different community member/s each week. From March to July 2020, we hosted 16 virtual candle-lightings and 15 Havdalah ceremonies, with 2,500 people tuning into these live events each week.
As Marcell Kenesei states, “The silver lining of the Coronavirus shutdowns is that they re-enforced the importance of utilizing the online space. Coronavirus showed us just how many people we can reach online”. Today, thanks to the broad range of online programming and a bolstered social media presence, the JCC Budapest now has 19,000 Facebook followers and is the most popular JCC on Facebook with the closest runner-up being the JCC in San Francisco.
By inviting a diverse group of people to lead these ceremonies, we turned children, college students, university professors and others into active community members. We are now eager to capitalize on this potential and continue to grow these individuals’ engagement after the pandemic ends.