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Pandemic Profile: Carlsbad Rabbi On How He, His Congregation Are Surviving COVID-19 Crisis

Editor's Note: This is one of an ongoing series of stories looking at how San Diegans are surviving through COVID-19.

Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort of Chabad at La Costa shows the synagogue's Torah roll...

Photo by Mike Damron

Above: Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort of Chabad at La Costa shows the synagogue's Torah rolls on Dec. 9, 2020.

As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort knew the way he’d done things for years would have to be different at the synagogue he leads, Chabad at La Costa in Carlsbad.

“People are going to need our support and we’re going to have to change how we offer that,” he said.

Listen to this story by John Carroll.

Pre-pandemic, everything that happened at Chabad at La Costa centered on their building.

Rabbi Eilfort, or Rabbi “E” as most people call him, gathered with fellow rabbis and lay leaders to chart a new path to deliver an ancient message.

Reported by John Carroll , Video by Mike Damron

“People are going to the strength, the inspiration that they get from the teachings of the Torah, from the Jewish Bible, from Judaism more than ever before. So how do we bring it to them?” he said.

That meant thinking out of the box.

In a bit of holiday irony, thinking outside the box at Chabad at La Costa has meant using actual boxes. This year, they’re delivering Hanukkah in a box.

The boxes contain a Menorah, dreidels, and gelt, that’s Yiddish for money. In this case, the "money" is chocolate coins.

RELATED: Hanukkah: A Festival Of Delights

Eilfort said he’s not taking the approach of certain houses of worship, fighting health orders limiting how many people can gather inside.

He is, however, wary of politicians, as he said, getting comfortable with certain regulations. He said it all comes down to what “safety” means.

“Maybe I would be safer never getting into my car. Maybe I should just stay in bed all day, but that’s really not safer," Eilfort said. "Follow the law by all means, but you know what guys, we’ve got to move this along also, find a way, help the science forward. It’s never going to be 100% safe."

Special Feature Pandemic Profiles

In an ongoing series, KPBS takes a look at how San Diegans are coping during the coronavirus pandemic.

He admitted the struggles of the COVID-19 era have gotten him down from time to time. When that has happened, he said he thinks of the big picture.

“I have a decision to make," Eilfort said. "Am I going to curse the darkness, or am I going to try and kindle a light?"

As Hanukkah begins, the focus for Eilfort's congregation, indeed for Jews around the world, is light.

In a metaphoric sense, the whole world looks to the light at the end of this dark tunnel, vaccines that will eventually lead to the end of the pandemic.

Eilfort, however, said even then, he won’t forget the lessons learned during this difficult time, new ways to practice ancient traditions.

“I’m going to focus on God, being God-centered, in my own life and try and inspire other people," he said. "That’s what we’re going to do.”

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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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