New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered on Tuesday a one-mile “containment zone” around a modern Orthodox synagogue in a New York suburb that has seen by far the most documented coronavirus cases in the state.
For the next two weeks, all schools in the zone in New Rochelle, N.Y., as well as facilities that host large gatherings like community centers and houses of worship, will be closed until March 25, Cuomo said. Some 108 out of the 173 known COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in New Rochelle.
The center of the one-mile radius is the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, where the virus was believed to be first spread in the area last month. Since synagogue members usually live within walking distance of their house of worship, many of them will be caught within the zone.
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“New Rochelle, at this point, is probably the largest cluster of these cases in the United States,” Cuomo said at a news conference.
There will be no travel restrictions on entering or leaving the zone, and small businesses such as grocery stores will remain open, Cuomo said. He added that the New York National Guard will be deployed to the city to clean schools and deliver food to quarantined families, and that coronavirus testing kits would soon be made available locally.
New Rochelle is located in Westchester County, where around 17% of the population is Jewish, according to a 2011 study by UJA-Federation of New York. The city is home to several synagogues of various denominations, as well as a half-dozen kosher restaurants. Several notable Jewish Americans come from the city, including “Fiddler on the Roof” composer Jerry Bock, Union of Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and “West Wing” actor Joshua Malina.
UJA-Federation is having twice-daily “crisis team” meetings to discuss how best to assist Jews affected by the outbreak and its aftereffects, said chief program officer Rabbi Deborah Joselow.
The organization is offering Shabbat care packages to quarantined families, as well as considering the provision of remote counseling for people dealing with anxiety over continued confinement or fear for loved ones.
Jewish schools in the area - both inside and outside the one-mile containment zone - have already closed and are conducting classes online. Groups like the Jewish Education Project and PJ Library have created resources for stuck-at-home parents to keep their children educated and occupied. And the Hebrew Free Loan Society is offering interest-free loans of up to $5,000 to residents who need financial assistance due to lost wages or extra child care or medical costs.
Young Israel of New Rochelle, which was ordered by the county health commissioner to close its doors, has also been conducting classes via the teleconferencing software Zoom. Young Israel Rabbi Reuven Fink, who himself has contracted coronavirus, wrote last week that there were some upsides to the quarantines and synagogue closures.
“There are some positive elements that can be found in looking at our predicament,” he wrote. “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.”
Since the synagogue was closed and so many congregants are under quarantine and thus unable to attend Purim services at a different synagogue, members of the Chabad movement are going house-to-house, chanting the Book of Esther outside people’s doors and windows.
Helen Chernikoff contributed reporting.
Cuomo orders New Rochelle coronavirus containment zone