Yochonon Donn is liveblogging events from quarantine in New York City
(Photo: AP Images)
3.23.20 10:30 PM | ROUNDING OUT A WEEK IN QUARANTINE
Tuesday marks a week in quarantine, seven days of not stepping foot out of the house, 22 tefillos recited at home. Any thought I’d had that this was a 14-day affair was dashed sometime in day two or three. We’re going to be here for a long, long time.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he couldn’t envision reopening the school system again this year. Camp registrations have been put on ice. I gave in and bought store matzah for the first time in my life this week, rather than participate in a chaburah of friends and bake ourselves.
Our home school — I call it Yeshivas Chananya ben Chizkiya ben Gurion after the sage who went up to an attic and stayed there for three years to save the sefer Yechezkel from being hidden away — is up and running. A routine, weird as it is to call it that, is settling in. A friend, Chaskel Bennett, made a chasunah today and we participated via Zoom instead of the physical dancing that will have to await more solid times. And a disconcerting number of friends are coming down with the coronavirus.
Today has brought more bad news. Additional victims from the coronavirus include Reb Avrohom Aharon ben Rasha Roiza and Rifka bas Hinda Rubashkin, the elderly parents of Sholom Mordechai. They’ve been an inspiration during their son’s long saga, and it’s painful to hear that they must go through a health crisis. They are émigrés from Russia and are renowned philanthropists in Boro Park through their butcher shop on 14th Avenue.
A joint statement by the moatzos gedolei haTorah of Degel HaTorah, Shas and the Agudath Israel branches of Eretz Yisrael and America have requested a yom tefillah on Wednesday, Yom Kippur Kattan. Unlike others, this will be done in the privacy of hundreds of thousands of homes across the world.
Meanwhile, in response to a picture that appeared on social media of a line waiting to pick up suits outside a Boro Park clothier, an unprecedented letter was jointly released by the entire spectrum of Orthodox Judaism calling for a hiatus in clothing purchases this Pesach. There won’t be any social visits anyhow but clothing and shoe stores have been crowded this past week.
Rabbinic leaders and organizations across the Orthodox spectrum have, individually, declared the health threat presented by COVID-19 a mortal threat (sakanas nefashos). We, leaders of major American Orthodox Jewish organizations, join together again to further clarify our shared and firm guidance for our communities.
We have heretofore urged not only full compliance with all health guidance issued by federal, state and local governments, but have gone beyond those pronouncements in urging our communities to remain at home and avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions.
With regard to the upcoming Pesach holiday, we note specifically the following critical mandates, shared in consultation with leading Infectious Disease and Public Health experts:
“We are accustomed to honoring Pesach to the fullest degree, including taking haircuts, purchasing new clothing and tableware, and preparing the fullest menus,” read the statement, which was signed by Agudath Israel, Igud HaRabbanim, the Lakewood Vaad, Young Israel, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America.
“This year’s public health crisis mandates us to significantly limit all of the above,” it added. “Our responsibility is to refrain from any non-essential outside interactions, including especially in-store shopping.”
The statement also called on stores to shift to home delivery or drive-by orders.
“We will truly honor Pesach by limiting our purchases to the truly essential, ensuring that all of us — especially the vulnerable — are able to celebrate Pesach in good health. We must stay home; save lives.”
Incidentally, “stay home, save lives” has become the latest social media hashtag. It hasn’t replaced “flattening the curve” but it’s the new thing to know.
Regardless, public health experts say it’s the only thing proven as of yet to choke the virus.
3.22.20 10:30 PM | AND THE HEARTBREAKING LETTERS BEGIN FLOWING
“Effective Monday, you are no longer employed by us.”
Some form of this letter went out or will be going out from hundreds, and possibly thousands, of businesses in New York and New Jersey. A real human tragedy is playing itself out in real time in front of our eyes, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Thousands of business owners are grappling with being forced to shut down in middle of their most lucrative season. Many tens of thousands of Yidden will lose their jobs as their place of employment is forced to shut or has no customers.
A new mandated closure of all nonessential businesses across the state went into effect at 8 o’clock Sunday night, shutting all types of stores and businesses. Hotels that have booked tens of thousands of clients this Pesach will have to reimburse them and lose all the money they plowed into the yom tov. Many shops have already sent out termination notices to employees.
“Due to the New York State on PAUSE executive order … you will be laid off from … until further notice,” read one pink slip. “The layoff is intended to be temporary and last less than six months. We are hoping to reopen as soon as we are permitted and it is practical to do so.”
The memo advised the newly jobless worker that he should apply for unemployment benefits.
Several kehillos, such as Satmar, have opened emergency coronavirus funds to help those people through a difficult period. A WhatsApp group I’m on called “Am Yisroel vs. Covid-19” said on Friday that their volunteers have helped 60 people in quarantine with deliveries or pickups. The Masbia soup kitchen has opened a special quarantine fund to help those affected by the coronavirus.
This comes as the number of cases in New York City raced past 10,000, an increase of over 1,000 since just eight hours ago. The number of confirmed cases reached 10,764 as of 6 p.m., an increase of the 1,110 recorded at 10 a.m.
There have been 36 deaths in the city since this morning, reaching 99 deaths since the virus penetrated the city. There are 450 patients in the ICU.
An order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses. Only businesses with essential functions will be permitted to operate. Examples include grocery stores, pharmacies, Internet providers, food delivery, banks, financial institutions, and mass transit. The NYPD will be out in neighborhoods to ensure compliance.
Police will also be fining people who concentrate outside their home who are not six feet away from each other. It will limit use of public transportation to what is absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile, messages are being passed around to daven for this or that person who is in critical condition. Rabbi Romi Cohn, a popular mohel and Holocaust survivor, is in the ICU, as is Dr. Yesachar Greenberg, a doctor at Maimonides Medical Center. Over half of every WhatsApp group I’m on has the virus.
“Today,” one friend who works in government tells me, “was the worst day.”
A letter from the Bobov-45 rebbe warned his chassidim against davening together, even on porch or backyard minyanim that have sprung up around Boro Park in recent days. The rebbe has canceled his private minyan at home and urged his followers to do the same.
“We have a responsibility for our own health and for the health of the greater public,” he wrote.
3.21.20 11:30 PM | SHABBOS IN MY LIVING ROOM
This Shabbos just ending is one I will remember forever. It started with Kabbalas Shabbos in my living room, which we converted into a beis medrash for the day, and concluded with a shalosh seudos with my family, rather than with friends in my local shul. My 12-year-old son was happy to serve as a chazzan for the first time in his life.
The urgent message, “don’t leave your home!” was repeatedly sent around all day Friday from Hatzolah, rabbanim, and short clips from doctors, their stethoscopes hanging around their neck for emphasis.
Just before Shabbos came a particularly heartrending plea from Rav Avrohom Schorr, a prominent rav in Boro Park who himself has tested positive for coronavirus.
“The Eibishter wants to test our ahavas Yisrael, the Eibishter wants to see how much we care about other Yidden,” said Rav Schorr, his voice cracking from emotion in the message. “But the yetzer hara has disguised himself in the frumkeit of going out to daven, of going out to the mikvah, and put the lives of others in danger. Have rachmanus on our brothers! Don’t put them in a sakanah! Stay at home and daven b’yechidus as the Eibishter wants!”
Yet, from the vantage point of my front window I saw more than a few people walking around outside, even some elderly people. This is downright dangerous, as the number of patients rapidly rises.
New York City overall, as of Motzaei Shabbos, has over 8,100 cases, including 1,450 hospitalized and 437 in intensive care units. At least four prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshivah have it, as well as a growing list of friends of mine.
A friend of mine, Naftali Fried, made an interesting point. President Trump and Gov. Cuomo and both oppose each other on just about everything. Each frequently mocks the other, many times in personal terms. Yet, they both agree on the gravity of the coronavirus. China and the United States hardly agree with each other any anything. Yet, they both agree that the Covid-19 virus is a serious danger to public health.
“And then you have a few shtieblach in Boro Park and Williamsburg who say, nah, there’s nothing wrong,” Fried told me. “It bothers me so much. It’s so obvious that this is real.”
One spirited topic of conversation people have been having is what Hashem want from us.
Rav Chaim Kanievski said to strengthen in tefillah; he had earlier said that the concept of being alone — quarantine — is found in the Torah in relation to a metzora, which comes from lashon haral. People should be extra careful to avoid gossip, he said in a letter last week.
One person suggested that with Mashiach so close, Hashem wanted to fill Yiddishe houses with more Torah and tefillah so they would merit being transported to Eretz Yisrael.
I’m no navi or gadol, but let’s find out soon.
3.19.20 11:30 PM | BLACK HUMOR SETS IN AS RESTRICTIONS TIGHTEN
The restrictions governing life in this eerie world of coronavirus quarantine is continually tightening. Boro Parkers are coping with a form of black humor as politicians bicker over our fate.
Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to go for a full quarantine, or a more benign term of "shelter in place," as he refers to it. He was instantly and repeatedly reprimanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who seems to never miss an opportunity to put his former ally in place. Cuomo claims that quarantining is a form of imprisonment that will unnecessarily frighten people.
But what have we been feeling until now? Not a day goes by without some study or another asserting that our current situation will last for a year, will cost millions of lives or will wreck the economy. How much worse could a quarantine be?
And besides, everyone knows that it's just a matter of time. New York, the hardest hit state, has been following policies that Israel and several European countries have been putting in place by about a week. Israel became the latest to enforce a mandatory quarantine on Thursday, meaning we're not that far behind.
Meanwhile, jokes are the glue that keeps Boro Park residents sane in this uncharted territory. For a neighborhood whose inhabitants go to 13th Avenue daily just to air out, having to stay indoors -- with all kids home -- is causing a lot of chafing.
"Smile," one post says, reminding parents who have been homeschooling that "Friday is just half a day for the kids."
There's also the old joke of wives discovering, now that husbands are davening at home that "Shacharis takes more than 15 minutes and Maariv doesn't take an hour."
The latest numbers of confirmed cases, which just earlier this week rose by dozens a day, are now pushing hundreds every few hours.
Citywide, there are 3,954 positive cases, including 26 fatalities. Brooklyn itself has 1,195 in Brooklyn. Messages are passed around with increasing frequency of requests for tefillos for this or that person who is in critical condition.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio agree that the increase in the Orthodox community does not mean that the virus is more prevalent in Boro Park or Kiryas Joel, as the media has been intimating. It's just a mistaken run for testing when it became available this week. Everyone in the city, they stressed, should consider themselves carriers by now.
There's a lot of misinformation flying around. The Forward published an article that a prominent rebbe had tested positive for coronavirus. Not true, said the gabbaim. It turned out, reportedly, that someone who heard that the test result has been "negative" thought it meant it wasn't a good diagnosis. The Forward published a retraction.
Then, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Yerushalayim, who lives in Boro Park and is known as an expert in the medical science, gave a rare interview to deny rumors. Yes, he closed his beis medrash and no, coronavirus is not a benign condition, he said.
One friend, who works full-time and is a daf yomi maggid shiur, says that the forced home stay is great for him.
"This is what Gan Eden is," here said. "Nothing to do, just learning and davening."
The next hurdle is Shabbos, a day where people normally spend most of their waking hours in shul. How will davening at home be? Do you say Vayechulu? Magen Avos? Birchas hachodesh?
The questions are endless. The answers? As everything else in this surreal new existence, it will come in its own time.
3.19.20 5:30 PM | A LEVAYA I CAN'T ATTEND
The severity of the coronavirus quarantine hit home in a personal way this morning. My brother-in-law's father was niftar and I will not be able to attend the levayah.
Reb Naftuli Fishman z"l was 76 and had been ill for awhile. He always had a smile on his face and symbolized to me the simplicity and charm of Yerushalayim Shel Maalah. He raised a beautiful family with his esteemed wife and served as the gabbai of the local Boyaner kloiz in Boro Park.
But as per the terms rabbanim and health authorities have given, I can't go to the levayah or even go be menachem avel.
His father was the celebrated Boyaner chassid Reb Duvid Fishman, who was niftar several years ago at the age of 100, if I remember correctly. The Fishman brothers of Boyan are well-known here in Boro Park. In normal circumstances Reb Naftuli would have had hundreds of people paying their last respects.
It is interesting that he was niftar less than a week after the passing of the longtime Rav of the Boyaner kloiz, Rav Eliezer Eichler. The two worked hand-in-hand for decades.
Yehi zichro baruch.
Meanwhile, the effects of the mass testing in Boro Park, Kiryas Joel and Lakewood earlier this week are continuing to show up in the statistics. As of last night there were more than 243 new cases in Boro Park, with more in the other frum areas. That is expected to level off since urgent care centers have been pleading for people to stop getting tested.
Here in Boro Park life is settling into a new, if surreal, routine. The streets are relatively empty, minyanim are taking place via speakers along blocks and we've gotten used to hearing of chasunas in homes. A chassan had his oifruf this morning after moving up his chasunah to tonight.
A big demand now among residents is for supermarkets to allow orders by email or phone. That would remove one of the last major impediments to the social distancing requirement.
Still undecided is how I'm going to get matzos and do my Pesach order. Also, the first Shabbos in quarantine has more questions than answers. I'll keep you posted.
3.18.20 11:45 PM | BORO PARK IN REFUGE: BLOCK MINYANIM, STREET WEDDINGS
Boro Park, a neighborhood thrust into a dreamlike situation of no shuls, stay at home orders and a pervasive fear of the unknown, is making do as only Boro Park can.
Speaker systems blast across streets as neighbors gather on porches to form the world’s sparest and widest-spaced minyanim. Borchu is recited by the third floor porch of one house, only to be answered by porches up and down the block.
Earlier Wednesday evening, an outdoor chasunah took place on 14th Avenue and 46th Street, the chassan and kallah having what to tell their grandchildren about. In Monsey as well, a street chasunah of an acquaintance’s son attracted onlookers. There was a video circulating of a chuppah taking place in a backyard, the seudah in the privacy of the dining room.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced every shul to close — even Congregation Mikveh Israel of Philadelphia issued a statement that they were closing for the first time in 280 years.
“As you know,” wrote Eli Gabay, the shul’s parnas, “our beloved ‘Synagogue of the American Revolution’ has not ceased to meet for a single Shabbat since 1740. Unfortunately, it is with a very heavy heart we will be closing all activities for this coming Shabbat.”
For Thursday, the first krias haTorah since the shul closures, Rav Mechel Steinmetz, the Skvere dayan of Boro Park, issued a psak that one can be yotzei by reading from a Chumash. The psak, which I personally double-checked with the dayan, pertains to Shabbos as well.
Meanwhile, Agudath Israel of America's Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah issued a call to fast until chatzos today and to recite Yom Kippur Kattan without the Yud Gimmel Middos.
It seems that the push by many Jews to get tested is causing a backlash. Confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday night rose in New York City to 1,871, a 550 case increase from just six hours before.
Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, attributed it to over-testing. There have indeed been lots of testing done in Boro Park, despite authorities’ imploring people to only get tested if they are at a higher risk.
But the media has quickly pounced — it’s the Jews. The New York Times wrote about the “huge spike” in the Orthodox community and Pix11 News came down to Rosner’s Grocery on 14th Avenue to do a segment.
It’s all due to the nearly 1,000 tests that were done on Monday, however.
Errol Louis, a NY1 anchor who is a known opponent of the community, raised it with Mayor Bill de Blasio in his weekly interview Wednesday night.
“No. I can verify negatively,” de Blasio responded. “I spoke to our Health Commissioner probably 20 minutes ago. There is no cluster in New York City at this moment. We're constantly monitoring. There's a lot of activity out there, obviously. We do see some places where there's more cases popping up and we take that seriously. But in terms of something that would equate to a cluster and — obviously the prime example we have is New Rochelle — the Health Commissioner says there are none at this point in New York City.”
In Lakewood, meanwhile, the list of shuls shutting continued to rise. Dr. Reuven Shanik, the township’s premier doctor, as well as rabbanim of Lakewood Hatzolah asked residents not to leave the house at all, and to send only one person to do food shopping.
One poignant video that was making its rounds is of Rabbi Yossy Goldman, the Chabad shaliach to Johannesburg, South Africa, begging mechilah in front of the aron kodesh for having to close down the shul.
“This is not by our design or our devices or our plans or our thoughts,” said Rabbi Goldman, wearing a tallis an standing facing the aron kodesh. “This is something that was thrust upon us by a global virus. We beg and pray for your divine understanding.”
3.18.20 5:00 PM | BORO PARK HAS NO SHULS OPEN FOR THE FIRST TIME
Think about it. The most dense frum neighborhood in the world has not a single shul open.
Boro Park's last remaining open shuls just announced their closures, falling victim to the ravages of the coronavirus that is rapidly infecting thousands of people in the Orthodox community.
In Lakewood, too, dozens of shuls are shutting in quick succession.
The crown jewel of America's yeshivas, Bais Medrash Govoha, just announced that it is closing up and sending its students home.
"BMG closed this morning," Rabbi Aaron Kotler, the yeshiva's CEO, said in a statement. "We ended the zman, notified all our talmidim of that, and sent our bochurim home. We further closed our dormitories."
"This morning," he continued, "we still allowed very small groups, under careful size and condition monitoring, into our buildings, and sought further guidance from the State. Although the State of NJ is not requiring this of us, effective now we are wholly shutting all our buildings down."
In some good news, Adina Garbuz just posted on Facebook that her husband Lawrence, one of the East Coast's first coronavirus victims, awoke from a coma and was asking about the family.
Garbuz, an attorney who lives in New Rochelle and practices in Manhattan, was like Rip Van Winkle, awaking to a new reality. His first reaction, Adina posted, was to warn other people about coronavirus, not realizing that it has already spread to thousands of others across the region.
"Realizing now that this is widespread," she wrote, "he is trying to comprehend now a world where no one goes out, no social gatherings, no religious services, no Purim!!"
3.18.20 3:00 PM | "EVERYONE I KNOW HAS IT"
Shut down everything. That's the blunt message Hatzolah just sent out.
Shuls, mikvaos, yeshivas, schools, shiurim, public gatherings. Close it for a few months so that we come out safely from the rapidly expanding coronavirus pandemic.
Most places in New York have already done so. Even the local minyan factory, the legendary Shomer Shabbos shul, closed hours ago.
There are some holdouts, however. And they are the target of Hatzolah's memo.
"The Medical Board of Chevra Hatzalah, with the strong endorsement of the Va’ad Horabanim of Chevra Hatzalah," the statement read, "declares that all of the following should be closed immediately and until further notice: All Schools, Yeshivos, Men’s Mikvaos, Shuls, Minyanim, In-person Shiurim, and any Public Gatherings."
The coronavirus, deadly in other countries, began a fearsome aggression these past two days, with confirmed cases rising five fold.
"Every friend of mine the last few days, and people I work with, came back positive," one friend says. "This is not a joke."
There have been hundreds of confirmed cases in Boro Park, which one friend whose wife tested positive says means a "whole family of positives."
Meanwhile, TheLakewoodScoop.com is reporting that there are hundreds of new cases over there.
3.18.20 1:00 PM | WHEN SHOMREI SHABBOS SHUTS IT DOORS...
You know things are serious when the Shomrei Shabbos shul is closing.
Established in 1918 as the only shul in the fledgling neighborhood of Boro Park that stipulated its members not work on Shabbos, it has survived wars and depression. But the coronavirus pandemic forced the iconic shul on 13th Avenue to shut down.
I spoke to Moshe Metzger twice today. Both times he denied that the shul he's served as gabbai for a half century was being bolted. But a friend sent me a picture of the doors locked, large signs sadly informing that due to the health department's regulations it was closing until further notice.
Shomer Shabbos is not the only shul closing. Belz became the latest to announce it was shuttering its shuls, mikvaos, yeshivas and school networks in Brooklyn and Monsey. They had held out until now, hoping the virus would die down.
Closing a shul is heart wrenching. Nearly every one of the dozens of announcements mentioned the great pain. People have compared it to the agony of being forced to flee because of war.
The pain is compounded when a yeshiva is forced to send home talmidim. Administrators have shared with me the thought process that went into the decision. None of them have taken this lightly. All mentioned the Gemara that the Torah of children upholds the world.
But we love life. And that's why we're powering down for the time being.
I should note that one thing coronavirus cannot interfere with is Pesach prep. Pictures of 16th Avenue show crowds of customers waiting outside shoe stores and clothing shops.
I'm counting on the end of my quarantine to follow in their footsteps.
3.18.20 11:00 AM | JEWISH LIFE SHUT DOWN
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases soared by a whopping 150 percent in New York state overnight, likely powered by a one-day testing marathon in Boro Park on Monday.
The 2,500 cases, up from 1,000 on Tuesday morning -- which itself was double the day before -- depict an aggressive pandemic that will attack wherever it's let in.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that experts estimate the virus will reach its crescendo in 45 days before beginning its descent. That does not bode well for residents of the state.
It is probably linked to testing done in Boro Park on Monday by Asisa and Chai Urgent Care, in which hundreds of people tested positive. Those results came in this morning.
Meanwhile, Jewish life abruptly shut down, with shuls and kehillas -- almost by the minute -- announcing they were closing and mispallelim should come pick up their tallis and tefillin.
In my own kehillah, Karlin Stolin, we all entered quarantine yesterday on the rebbe's orders after someone who spent Shabbos with us tested positive. Since then several others have also been diagnosed with the virus.
It is surreal to be locked up for two weeks. No minyan, no going out for a quick break, working from home. All yeshivas and girls schools are also closed, meaning the kids all home and need to be entertained.
But life goes on. My kehillah is trying to keep a semblance of cohesiveness. We daven at home, but at the same time. Daf yomi shiurim continue, but via telephone call-in.
A friend sent over a computer and I'm working from home. Breakfast time falls into lunch which tumbles into supper. And what is it about working from home that makes you constantly hungry?
Klal Yisroel is trying to help. Other Hachochma placed its stupendous library of 100,000 sefarim online. ArtScroll is allowing the free download of any single masechta. The golden oldies of the Marvelous Middos Machine somehow surfaced, giving me a childhood rerun.
So what's next? Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to quarantine everyone, a decision he says he'll make tomorrow. Cuomo quickly stepped in, saying only he has the power to make such a decision and it'll never happen. But he's talking about shutting all businesses, which will wreak havoc on the economy.
Interesting times ahead. Stay tuned.
3.17.20 | WHO WILL LIVE AND WHO WILL DIE?
That's the stark question facing New York's leadership rig ht now. The coronavirus is forecast to peak in a month and a half and seriously sicken more than 100,000 people across the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the health department are seeking to dramatically ramp up the ability of hospitals to care for that many patients.
The problem is that the state has only 50,000 hospital beds and 3,000 beds in the ICU. They need 110,000 hospital beds and 37,000 ICU beds.
And ventilators have become a treasure. Governors of states hard hit by the coronavirus are canvassing the globe for the lifesaving machines. President Trump advised them last week to try to get them themselves.
The only place with a glut of ventilators is China, the former epicenter of the virus that is now emerging from it. New York is competing with other states and countries for access to the breathing machines.
Who will win this battle? According to experts, the states that get their hand on these ventilators. Which makes the old question of who will live and who will die much more poignant.
3.16.20 | KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
The schools were the last to fall to the coronavirus pandemic. But once New Jersey and New York City announced earlier this week that public schools would be closing, the vast majority of yeshivos followed suit, some of them hinting that it may last until the end of the year.
This extraordinary shutdown of normal life is unprecedented in recent times. Shuls and chassidish courts that regularly attract overflowing crowds instituted a strict “social distancing” policy, requiring several feet of space between attendees. Attendance at tishen is now decided by a lottery drawing, and the l’chayim handshake, long a staple among chassidim, is in hiatus. Entire neighborhoods, from Flatbush to Far Rockaway, canceled minyanim this past Shabbos, their rabbanim issuing a psak for people to daven at home. Some went as far as banning all events and limiting brissim, weddings, and levayos to a bare minyan.
Major retailers and supermarkets, such as B&H Photo and Video, the largest electronic shop in the city, are now closed. Goldberg’s Supermarket in Boro Park said last week they were out of eggs, chicken, water, flour, yogurt, tuna, and water. At Bingo, a few blocks away, there was no chicken, meat, or tissues.
In New York City, health officials made the dramatic announcement that the time to contain the virus had passed. Everyone, they said, should now assume they have already come into contact with the deadly virus. Governments on the federal, state, and municipal levels are mobilizing to help individuals and small businesses affected by the closures and panic. New York City is providing small businesses zero-interest loans of up to $75,000 or grants covering 40 percent of payroll expenses for two months.
The Manhattan-based Hebrew Free Loan Society is offering interest-free loans of up to $5,000 for anyone affected by the coronavirus living in New York City, Westchester County, or Long Island. The Met Council, the largest Jewish charity organization in the United States, is ramping up food aid and changing its rules to allow for others to pick up packages for those quarantined, said executive director David Greenfield.
“If you go to any New York City store today, you will see that the shelves are empty,” said Greenfield, whose organization serves 225,000 people annually. “The reason is that a lot of families who otherwise would be traveling for Yom Tov are buying their Pesach food early. People are going into any kosher supermarket in Boro Park and Flatbush and telling me that they’re running out of Pesach food.”
Rebbes and rabbanim are also taking extra precautions. In Skver, Skulen, and Bobov, the rebbes are now refusing handshakes. The Skverer Rebbe will not accept a kvittel handed to him directly. The Bobover Rebbe said he would no longer be coming to shul; at age 60, he is considered at risk.
In Boro Park, the shuls of Bobov, Satmar, and Stolin divided their sanctuaries according to age and ensured there was ample space between members. Children and the elderly were asked not to come to shul. In New Square, there was a raffle for permission to daven in the main beis medrash with the Rebbe.
In Emunas Yisrael, Rav Moshe Wolfson announced at a l’chayim Thursday morning that he is not leaving any food over for shirayim, the traditional sharing of a rebbe’s leftovers. “This is not a joke,” he said, repeating it several times when someone in the crowd made light of the situation.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 803)
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