The Milwaukee Alliance for Jewish Reconnection, or MAJOR, provides Jewish learning sessions and experiences to Milwaukee’s college students and young professionals. Their programs typically include small group discussions, individual learning sessions, holiday meals, and Shabbaton weekends.
IFF sat down with the organization’s director, Rabbi Daniel Meister, to learn more about how the organization is responding to COVID-19 and how the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) may help them through this moment in history.
IFF: How did COVID-19 and the related shutdowns affect your organization?
Rabbi Meister: Things definitely changed for my organization immediately when all the schools closed – elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. We do a lot of our work on the campuses around the Milwaukee area, or in coffee shops, so of course that was all closed. But our main teacher and recruiter, Tamar Hyman, also wasn’t able to work anymore because she has four young children who were at home instead of at school.
Positively, MAJOR is part of a larger group of Jewish campus organizations called Olami, which is international. When COVID hit, the talented people at Olami were able to run different online programs that connected people from all around the U.S. and the world. We’d get on one big Zoom call for classes, discussions with break-out rooms, sessions on mindfulness and meditation, etc. Large populations of Jews getting together to learn isn’t something my students in Wisconsin – where as you might imagine there isn’t a big Jewish population – get to see very much, and now they can. Of course, I want our mentor back. I want to be up and running again. But these programs only happened because of COVID, and they were positives for us.
Much of my fundraising is done in person, and that totally came to a standstill – I haven’t had a fundraising meeting since March. And you know, fundraising feels like a necessary evil to me. I’m a teacher, I’m a recruiter, I love Judaism, I love teaching about how the wisdom of old applies to today’s living – that’s what I do. Fundraising is something I do because I have to, and I must be good enough at it because I’ve been around for 13 years. But face-to-face was always the easiest for me, and that has totally shut down.
IFF: Why did you decide to pursue a PPP loan, and how do you think it will help your agency?
Rabbi Meister: I pursued it because it was so necessary in terms of having the funding to continue the organization. There are businesses and organizations that are shutting down right now under the pressure; that’s happening. The PPP is necessary for us to keep going. We’re thankful to IFF, and we’re thankful to the bank, and we’re thankful to the federal government for providing it. We live in a country of kindness.
IFF: What was your experience like in getting the PPP loan?
Rabbi Meister: I started with a large bank, which was the large national bank we’ve been banking with since the start of the organization. We reached out to them, and they said they’d get back to us. Then they said they were not accepting loans from our kind of business at that time. Then the PPP money ran out. It was over. There was nothing to talk about. That was the end of the first wave. By the time we got to the second wave, we reached out to a second bank. And that banker never got back to us in a timely fashion either.
You are not doing a job; you are doing a community service.
Without IFF, I honestly think I would not have gone for the PPP. Thank you very much from me and many others. You are not doing a job; you are doing a community service.
IFF: What’s one thing you’ve learned in this climate?
Rabbi Meister: More about social media, for sure. Beforehand, we were doing most of our recruitment in-person on the college campuses. But in order to be able to continue the mission of the organization, which I truly believe in, you need to be on social media A LOT right now.