We are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak within the Jewish community in New York and beyond, and are posting updates as they happen here. If you are being affected by the virus we would like to speak to you, please email reporter Ari Feldman at feldman[at]forward.com.
Has the spread of #coronavirus made you change your Shabbat, Purim plans?— The Forward (@jdforward) March 5, 2020
6:00 p.m. | AIPAC announces two conference attendees tested positive for coronavirus
Two people who attended AIPAC’s recent Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. have tested positive for coronavirus, the organization said in an email sent late Friday afternoon.
The attendees came from New York, where 33 people have tested positive for the virus as of Friday. The majority of initial cases came from Westchester County, where a 50-year-old Jewish lawyer was the state’s first case of coronavirus without a clear connection to a preexisting outbreak.
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In its email, AIPAC offered no details about possible connections between existing cases and the individuals who attended the conference who have tested positive. AIPAC sent out an email to attendants earlier this week, urging them to monitor their symptoms. More than 18,000 people attended the Policy Conference over March 1-3.
The conference’s audience includes a sizable chunk of professionals in Jewish and Israel-focused organizations around the U.S., as well as many prominent political figures, hundreds of rabbis, thousands of students and attendees from Israel and other countries.
AIPAC encourages attendants to monitor their symptoms and follow CDC guidelines for preventing spread of the disease.
_ — Ari Feldman_
4:15 p.m. | Major Jewish conference confirms cancellation
The Reboot Ideas Festival, scheduled for the end of March in San Francisco, has been postponed out of concern about the spread of coronavirus, the group announced Friday.
Reboot is a 20-year-old Jewish cultural organization, and the Forward is a media partner for the upcoming Ideas Festival, a three-day gathering featuring Jewish thinkers, writers and celebrities, including Jill Soloway, Ayelet Waldman, and Rabbis Sharon Brous and Amichai Lau-Lavie. An overarching theme for the pre-Passover conclave was to have been “what plagues you and what liberates you.”
In a news release, Reboot said its “decision comes in light of the new present reality caused by the coronavirus,” and cited California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency.
“The Reboot team is working diligently to reschedule,” the release said, adding that anyone who had registered for the $750 conference could attend at the new date or get a refund. “Reboot is also exploring the possibility of creating online content” from some of the scheduled presenters, it added.
“Reboot feels deeply committed to use this moment to reflect on the communal responsibility all of us share to prevent the spread of this disease,” the release continued. “Reboot kindly suggests that everyone monitor the latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for guidance regarding everyone’s health and safety.”
2:41 p.m. | Humor in the time of coronavirus
On Friday, the Jewish community of Raalte in the eastern Netherlands shared a video of a French congregant showing off his invention: a kippah with elastic bands that can be moved from the top of the wearer’s head to cover one’s mouth and nose, like the now ubiquitous face masks being worn around the world in the wake of the virus.
“IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!” the Masorti Jewish Community of Beth Shoshanna wrote on its Facebook page two days before Purim, the Jewish holiday celebrating the Jewish people’s deliverance from their enemies — as well as foolishness and joviality.
“Due to the coronavirus, we are requesting the male visitors to our synagogue services wear their kippahs as seen in the photo. We’re asking also the female visitors to wear a kippah in this way, in egalitarian fashion. The executive board of the community and the health department of Raalte thank you in advance for your cooperation!” the community’s post reads.
The announcement contains a link to a video of a Jewish man saying in French that “I found the solution” while wearing what appears to be a white face mask — before he shifts it back to the top of his head and it is revealed to be a kippah.
What is less funny are the shortages of surgical masks, disinfectants and other products being reported in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. Hospitals in the Netherlands have been instructed to use hygienic masks for multiple purposes to conserve their stocks.
Jewish communities throughout Europe have canceled some events and postponed others out of fear of the virus’ spread. The March of the Living event, which brings together thousands of Jewish community members from across Europe and beyond for a Holocaust commemoration march in Auschwitz, Poland, was postponed indefinitely on Friday.
The European Conference of Rabbis earlier this week warned worshippers not to kiss Torah scrolls, mezuzahs or each other, and to avoid shaking hands in synagogue.
12:04 p.m. | Rabbi from affected congregation speaks out
“Over the past day or two other members of our congregation were tested and found to be positive for the Coronavirus,” Rabbi Reuven Fink wrote to his congregation of Young Israel of New Rochelle last night. “I as well found out an hour ago that I too am infected with the virus. I can now reassure you that it is possible Thank G-d [sic] to get through this virus without a special vaccine. I have the virus and am doing reasonably well. But I must caution all of you who have had personal contact with me to seek counsel from your health practitioner as to how to proceed.”
He went on to remind his congregation that life — and observance — goes on, as much as possible. “As a Shul we must worry about religion,” he wrote. “We tried to address in writing what people could do for the observance of yahrzeit and recitation of kaddish. We worked out a plan to read Zachor on Purim. Daf Yomi was taught online thanks to Chaim Jaroslowicz and “ZOOM.” We had two shiurim today given by me and by Rabbi Axelrod about Purim topics.”
Fink emphasized how the crisis has brought out the best in people, and urged congregants to comply with the State’s quarantines. “I have heard alarming reports that some of our members who should remain in quarantine have repeatedly violated it. This, obviously, is irresponsible,” he wrote. “It is a Chillul Hashem [desecration of God’s name] and reflects poorly on our community. One must think very seriously about the consequences of one’s actions - before they act.”
The rabbi then offered his personal musings about life in quarantine. “There are some positive elements that can be found in looking at our predicament. It slows down the pace of our frenetic lives. That can be positive. It can give us more time with our families. Maybe that book that we never got around to reading can be read now. Maybe we always wanted to find time to learn Torah. We now have that opportunity. I can’t remember the last time I davened without a minyan for shacharis. But my davening this morning was much slower than usual. This circumstance certainly gives us the opportunity to think. Our attention turns to mortality and our vulnerability. We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. Contemplation is good for the soul.”
10:44 a.m. | More schools closed
Touro College, a private Jewish university in New York City, is closed due to coronavirus concerns. Also closed, Manhattan High School for Girls, a private Jewish girls high school, due to coronavirus.
10:19 a.m. | Tips for attending Shabbat services
The Orthodox Union has launched a web page that will be updated with its latest health and ritual recommendations. As of now, it does not recommend cancellations of religious services, but it does urge sick people to stay home. It also calls on members to recite more psalms, in addition to following officials’ health advice.
Good advice from my shul on #coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/ja6SDc3dM8— Johnny Kunza (@johnkunza) March 6, 2020
9:27 a.m. | Coronavirus quarantine and mikveh
“According to Israel’s Health Ministry guidelines, a person in quarantine may not leave the house, not even for mikveh immersion. This policy is in tune with the halacha of not endangering others’ lives, which takes precedence over mikveh immersion. As difficult as delaying immersion can be, remember that during quarantine you need to avoid physical contact with others, including family members and even your husband, to help protect them from possible infection.”
9:18 p.m. March 5th | Yeshiva University basketball team kicked out of Baltimore area hotel
The Yeshiva University’s men’s basketball team had their reservation canceled at a Baltimore-area hotel due to coronavirus fears. The coach of the Maccabees told The Associated Press that the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Pikesville, Maryland, canceled the reservation.
“I made it very clear to the hotel that it’s discrimination,” Steinmetz said. “I basically said to them: ‘Do you have a checkbox on your website that says that you’ve been in an area with suspected coronavirus?’ And they said no. So I said: ‘Is it just for the guests of Yeshiva University?’ And they said yes. I told them that that’s called discrimination.”
A Yeshiva University student is the son of a man infected with coronavirus, the school reported Tuesday afternoon.
The student, who has not been on campus since February 27, is in self-quarantine and is showing symptoms, which are being monitored. The student is the son of a Westchester man who was hospitalized in “serious condition” for a coronavirus infection early this week.
The Maccabees are having their best season in school history, winning their conference title qualifying for the NCAA Division III tournament.
7:30 p.m. | Synagogues send alerts to congregants
New York City area temples are messaging their congregants information on how to attend services during the coronavirus outbreak, with many saying that they expect official recommendations to change over the coming weeks. Members who are displaying flu-like symptoms are being asked to stay home and the overall advice at the moment is wash your hands. “Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (sing happy birthday twice),” one email read.
Synagogues are also widely sharing advice given by the CDC on the outbreak.
“During this time of uncertainty, we ask you to do your part, please take the time to familiarize yourself with the every-day personal and public health preventative actions recommended by the CDC and if you have traveled to any CDC COVID-19 transmission countries, we ask that you follow the 14-day self-quarantine recommendation.”
4:54 p.m. | Jewish conference in San Francisco canceled
The Reboot Ideas Festival has been canceled for the time being. In an email to participants organizers said “It is not for us to gauge the circumstances around community health and safety and we certainly do not want to add any unfounded worry. But based on a meaningful conversation with our board and sponsors, this decision seems more consistent with choices and notifications many employers are currently making being mindful of the best interests of their communities.”
3:31 p.m. | Quarantine in Israel expands
According to the JTA, between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are currently in home quarantine due to potential exposure to the coronavirus as the country tries to stem the spread of the new disease.
As of Thursday evening, 17 Israelis had been diagnosed with coronavirus. But many more are considered at high risk of exposure because of their recent travel history.
2:09 p.m. | Don’t panic and wash your hands
“Please do not go to shul. Please do not go to work. Please do not go to the stores.”
That’s the blunt warning opening a public statement released Thursday by Hatzalah of Far Rockaway and Nassau County. The Orthodox paramedic agency urged Jewish community members not to panic and to practice frequent hand-washing, and said it has the “appropriate protective equipment to prevent spread of the virus.”
“If you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, sneezing, etc. PLEASE STAY AT HOME!” the statement said.
“If you have mild symptoms it is not necessary to call Hatzalah,” it continued. “Contact your doctor for guidance. Often, your doctors’ recommendations will be to stay at home, rest, take Tylenol or Motrin (Ibuprofen/Advil) for fever, and drink plenty of fluids. If you develop severe symptoms such as trouble breathing or severe weakness, Hatzalah is prepared to care for you.”
2:09 p.m. | Livestreams on Shabbat?
The Conservative movement has not made an official ruling on whether livestreams on Shabbat are kosher, but says that synagogues that already have livestreams should encourage quarantined congregants to use them. Read more.
Looking for a service? View this crowdsourced list of synagogues offering livestreamed services.
1:18 p.m. | Life in New Rochelle under quarantine
If you’re Orthodox and you live in New Rochelle, there’s only one game — or synagogue — in town: Young Israel of New Rochelle.
So when state health officials asked congregants to self-quarantine after a 50-year-old lawyer was hospitalized with coronavirus, that meant that nearly all of its 350 families would stay home through Sunday. Orthodox Jews don’t drive on the Sabbath, meaning that a large part of the neighborhood around the synagogue has gone quiet.
One congregant, who asked to be identified by his Yiddish nickname, Moish, spoke to a reporter about his situation Monday. Moish asked to use a pseudonym because he did not want any clients at his business, in a different town, to be concerned about him potentially being exposed to coronavirus. He said neither he nor his wife is experiencing any symptoms.
The biggest problem, so far, he said, is remembering what day of the week it is.
“I keep thinking every day is Friday,” he said Thursday morning.
Moish knows both the lawyer’s family and the second New Rochelle family that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced had the virus on Wednesday. Moish said that the lawyer has four teenage and young-adult children, and thus friends across the community, so could have interacted with a good portion of the congregation over the weekend of February 22.
That weekend also had an unusual opportunity for the spread of the virus: The lawyer attended a funeral on Sunday, Feb. 23, at the synagogue for an elderly man who was a longtime gabbai, someone who helps organize the Torah service. Normally, Moish said, the synagogue doesn’t have funeral services in its building, but they made an exception for the gabbai, who was a longtime member.
The synagogue will be closed at least through Sunday. Whereas most of the men in the community would typically be gathering three times a day for prayer services, they are now praying at home, by themselves, without the usual minyan, or quorum of 10.
“There isn’t even a minyan of quarantined people,” Moish said. “What’s it, the six foot rule?”
Moish said that normally, if there were a few people sick in the community, there would likely be people visiting, fulfilling the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick, and congregants would be taking turns preparing food.
But with everyone indoors, Moish said: “There’s no protocol set up.”
Delivery from kosher restaurants in town — the Chinese place, the pizza shop — have continued. Moish said that friends in White Plains left a pot of chicken soup on his doorstep Wednesday.
In the meantime, he’s catching up on paperwork, going through his taxes and chatting with a group of friends from synagogue over WhatsApp. They mostly share coronavirus jokes and memes from Facebook, he said.
“The good news is I haven’t heard anyone dissenting” from the nearly synagogue-wide quarantine, said Moish. “It’s nice to see that people didn’t hesitate to follow the rules.”
12:25 p.m. | Kaddish while under quarantine
12:15 p.m. | Massive New Jersey Purim party canceled
Every Purim, Richard Roberts sponsors a party for more than 2,000 people in the heavily Orthodox New Jersey city of Lakewood, where he gives out, by his estimation, some $200,000 in charity.
This year, because of the coronavirus, the party is cancelled. Roberts, a philanthropist and former pharmaceutical executive, made the decision Wednesday afternoon — five days before the festive Jewish holiday, which begins on Monday night and runs through Tuesday. Read more here.
11:49 a.m. | Purim in the time of coronavirus
Purim is coming, which to most Jews means costumes and religiously mandated debauchery.
But if you’re an observant Jew, Purim comes with another requirement: That you listen to the reading of the megillah, the scroll that tells the story of Purim — Esther, Mordechai, Haman and yet another genocidal plot against the Jews.
Yet the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus through the Jewish world in New York has begun derailing many communities’ Purim plans. Many people are under voluntary quarantine, after being in contact with people who might have been in contact with people exposed to the virus in New Rochelle, at an Orthodox synagogue there. Purim carnivals, a big deal in many observant communities, have been cancelled, including arguably the largest free Purim carnival in the country, in Lakewood, N.J.
Just in time for these interruptions, Orthodox Jews have a new halakhic, or Jewish legal, ruling about hearing the megillah.
Jews who are quarantined at home through Monday evening next week, when the megillah will be read, are allowed to listen to the reading over the phone, according to Rabbi Mark Dratch, the head of a major Orthodox rabbinical association. Dratch said that the ruling came from Rabbi Hershel Schachter, an Orthodox posek, or decisor of Jewish legal matters.
The ruling, Dratch said, is in line with the broad message of Jewish law, which is that protecting one’s health trumps concerns over religious observance. In the same vein, Jews who are sick are not allowed to fast on Yom Kippur.
“We have made clear to our members that if a person is not feeling well they should not come to shul,” Dratch said, whether to pray, hear the megillah or say prayers of mourning for a loved one. “We’re dealing with some of the technicalities. But health and safety is the priority.”
The latest updates on coronavirus in New York City