So many members of the Clarke community have been making an incredible impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are eager to share some of their stories and celebrate their indispensable work, both inside and outside the home.
Rabbi Elyssa Cherney with infant son Zeke, Clarke preschooler Ava and husband Alan.
Elyssa Cherney, Clarke Preschooler Parent
Rabbi and CEO of Nonprofit Organization
Rabbi Elyssa Cherney was busy running her nonprofit organization, TacklingTorah, when the pandemic took hold in March 2020. “We help Jews and those who love them, in any capacity they need—through lifecycle events, serving as a spiritual guide, really at any phase in their religious journey. So I was out in the community, traveling to people, having meetings in coffee shops, showing up at hospitals, showing up at funerals and collaborating with local community organizations as well. I also ran events and hosted gatherings for millennials, singles, couples and young families,” explains Elyssa, who is also mom to Clarke preschooler Ava and infant Zeke.
Elyssa and her husband, Alan, an ER physician, both maintained busy schedules, working weekends and evenings with the support of an au pair. This quickly changed.
“We all went to New York in mid-March,” says Elyssa. “Alan attended an emergency physicians’ conference and we introduced our new baby to our family. No one really knew what was happening, even as NYC was becoming the COVID-19 epicenter with each passing day. The day we came back, schools were closing.”
Rabbi Elyssa Cherney with her family.
Keeping their young children safe was critical to Elyssa and Alan, while also making sure Alan could still serve the community. “He was trained to do this kind of work—for a world in crisis,” says Elyssa. “So many families were navigating these situations, and a lot of ER physicians lost their care networks. People didn’t want to be in contact with them.” And then their au pair, who helped care for four-year-old Ava and then two-month-old Zeke, also left.
Elyssa pivoted to being at home, solo parenting a newborn and a toddler. “The support systems that were in place were no longer there,” she says. “Many parents, especially women, have had to step up and juggle the whole house, kids and jobs—all simultaneously. Which has certainly been true here as well. I’ve had to go through everything, including furloughing myself initially; trying to maintain a nonprofit while raising two little kids; and running our household in the same space.”
With a strong connection to Clarke, Elyssa found support guiding Ava through these rapid changes. “Clarke just jumped right in,” she recalls. “Clarke guided many parents through their unique situations—whatever it was, hearing-related or otherwise. Saying, ‘Here are all the facts, here’s how a preschooler’s mind works, here’s what Ava needs to feel safe.’”
Ava, who wears a BAHA hearing device, started receiving services at Clarke at six months old and is part of the Inclusion Preschool Program at Clarke Philadelphia.
“We are extremely grateful to the Clarke community,” says Elyssa. “They’ve just gone above and beyond, helping us navigate what had to happen.”
During this process, Alan received a promotion. “He’s learning new medicine in real time through experience. His goal is to have people recover, and to not know how to help them was frustrating. There were some very challenging moments at the beginning, but now they have a much better handle on how the disease functions.”
In addition to his progress professionally, Alan has volunteered his time and expertise to support Clarke’s COVID-19 reopening efforts. “Alan wants to make sure that the Clarke community has the latest info,” Elyssa says. “He wants to be sure that Clarke families can feel safe.” Another bright spot for their family is Ava’s increasing independence. “That’s one really good thing,” adds Elyssa. “We’ve always encouraged her to be independent, but basically at one point, I decided if any of us are ever going to sleep again, something had to change. So now Ava can get up, get dressed, get a snack and watches the iPad until everyone else gets up. And Clarke has encouraged this in her. She’s learned to believe in herself and advocate for herself.”
“The whole thing has been challenging,” she says, reflecting on their experience. “But I feel confident in Clarke, and I am excited to have that support system again.”