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'Jewish Telegraphic Agency' Commemorates Members Of The Community Lost To COVID-19


At a time of such mass suffering and loss, how do you commemorate the dead on a global scale in this pandemic? One Jewish news organization is trying. Since the beginning of the crisis, they have been soliciting the names of the dead from their community and writing obituaries to honor the lives of those lost. The project is called Bonds of Life. Philissa Cramer is editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and she joins me now. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you start this project?

CRAMER: So the Jewish community in New York was among the first American communities really hit hard by the pandemic. So we knew early on that the communities that we cover were experiencing something wrenching and traumatic and historic. This global event is moving quickly. There's so much information flowing about, how should you personally act in the world? - the politics of it, the science of it. How do we get through our days? How do we make - you know, handle our job loss? And, like, amid all of that, a truly historic and catastrophic loss of life is unfolding. And I think we don't want to lose sight of that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell me some of the stories that have stood out to you?

CRAMER: One of the things that stands out is really the diversity of people that we have written about. So we've written about young people, people in their 20s and 30s - also about just a lot of Holocaust survivors or World War II veterans who liberated concentration camps. And they did something so important in their lives that was important to us to memorialize. We just wrote about - and then also, you know, folks all over the world - so we just wrote about a man in Ukraine who came from a Jewish family. But he wasn't raised with any kind of Jewish identity and discovered that later in life and took upon himself to restore the synagogue in his city which had, you know, fallen into decay. And I think we had covered him, or he had been covered previously as saying, you know, this is what I was here to do. And that restoration is almost complete. And he died of COVID on November 1. And, you know, the range of stories really does tell us kind of what we know about this moment, which is that this virus doesn't discriminate and that every person who is falling victim to it is a person with a story that deserves to be remembered.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The way that this works - I went on to your website, and you basically solicit people to sort of put in a name and some thoughts and, you know, contact numbers so that you could reach out if, you know, you wanted to do a longer obit. I imagine that it is overwhelming, that the capacity for you to write is less than the amount of people that would like to have their loved ones written about.

CRAMER: Absolutely. I mean, we're - you know, we do have a forum where folks can submit names and stories and photos. And the number of people that we know about, the number of names that we have on our list far outstrips our ability to tell the stories. We're going to keep at it. But any way you cut it, we're talking about thousands, almost certainly more than 10,000 names. And we only know about a fraction of that. And that's something that - you know, that worries me. We'd like to provide a chronicle of the scope of devastation that's unfolding right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that is an enormous amount of devastation. I guess my last question is - you know, it is an enormous loss of life for everyone but specifically, as you mentioned, for your community. How do you think this will be processed going forward? How do you think what has happened will, you know, sort of be metabolized?

CRAMER: I wish I knew. I do think that, you know, news organizations are playing an important role here in humanizing these statistics that can feel so overwhelming. And I think that whatever happens after this, and hopefully that - we get to learn that soon, preserving our humanity is going to position us well to come out of this stronger - with trauma but stronger.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Philissa Cramer, editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The project that she is overseeing is called Bonds of Life. Thank you very much.

CRAMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.