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A Jewish chapel on the front lines, free crisis counseling, a former Chief Rabbi dies
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Coronavirus 2020

A Jewish chapel on the front lines, free crisis counseling, a former Chief Rabbi dies

Daily Coronavirus Update

Patient care units, assembled by New York Army National Guard members and civilian staff, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, March 27, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden)
Patient care units, assembled by New York Army National Guard members and civilian staff, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, March 27, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sean Madden)

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A half-dozen local synagogues sent 100 prayer books and tallitot for a temporary Jewish chapel at the state-owned Javits Center in Manhattan, now operating as a 2,500-bed emergency medical facility for coronavirus patients run by the U.S. Army.

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said the synagogues rushed to help after a request came from New York Disaster Interfaith Services. He said many of them also sent over food for the chapel.

For the 110  Jews who spent the holiday at the field hospital, mostly health care professionals, their Passover needs were provided by college students from the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning on Campus Initiative (OU-JLIC). The students spent the days leading up to the holiday fundraising, procuring and arranging for matzah, kosher-for-Passover foods, grape juice, prayer groups, Haggadahs and other items.

The students, part of OU-JLIC’s “Killing COVID with Kindness” global project, worked with OU-JLIC Torah Educator Rabbi Joe Wolfson, an OU campus educator at New York University. The Passover initiative was a partnership between OU-JLIC, the Met Council and the Board of Rabbis.

A new organization launched as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Ruach: Emotional and Spiritual Support, is providing counseling to anyone free of charge. A team of 65 licensed therapists, licensed social workers and rabbis who have had at least one unit of clinical pastoral education will provide counseling, spiritual and emotional support for health care workers, those in the mainstream Jewish world and for what organizer Taylor Winfield, a spiritual care and chaplaincy intern, called “people who are not part of the mainstream Jewish community.”

“About 60 percent of the clients are coming from the LGBTQ community,” she said of the program, launched with the help of seed money from the Schusterman Foundation. “We are providing accessible and inclusive care. It is supportive counseling and not therapy, but everyone is a trained professional. We will do an initial visit and two to four follow-up visits. And we then have a whole system of referrals with a network of Jewish human service agencies.”

“There is a huge need out there,” said Winfield.

The group has partnered with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains. Its website is ruach.support.

Britain’s two major Jewish publications — the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News — simultaneously announced last week that they are going into liquidation, the Times of Israel reports. Both are victims of reduced income, mostly through advertisements, during the coronavirus crisis. The Canadian Jewish News also printed its final edition this week.

Both British papers, which had previously announced a planned merger, are indicating that they will seek to continue to publish in some form in the future. But their staff “have been made redundant,” according to the Times of Israel.

The publications indicated that they will attempt to continue to publish in their current forms for the next two or three weeks, and to update their websites.

The Jewish Chronicle, founded in 1841, is the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world. The Jewish News, a Times of Israel partner, is a free newspaper established in 1997.

Israel

Israel has 11,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 110 deaths.

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, died on Sunday due to complications from the coronavirus at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, the Times of Israel reports. on Sunday. The rabbi, 79, who served as chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003, succumbed to the virus five days after checking into the hospital with Covid-19 symptoms. The hospital said his condition deteriorated during the day and efforts to revive him in the evening were unsuccessful.

A native of Jerusalem, he devoted efforts during his decade as chief rabbi to interfaith dialogue, meeting, together with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, with Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s 2000 visit to Israel.

The Health Ministry has warned that if the rate of coronavirus infection continues at the current pace, there will likely be tens of thousands of cases in Israel by the end of April, Haaretz reports. The ministry says that between March 11 and April 10, the number of coronavirus cases grew more than a hundredfold, from 99 to 10,200.

The Health Ministry presented its evaluation as part of its recommendation in the Knesset to enforce a full closure on specific Jerusalem neighborhoods.

The Yad Sarah organization that offers free medical equipment and home care services has set up a Coronavirus Hotline and Emergency Delivery Service; the organization so far has distributed 5,000 oxygen generators, 220 respirators, 10,000 oxygen tanks, and 20,000 protective kits.

The program arranges for equipment to be delivered by a mobile unit, placed outside the door for those in quarantine and patients who were moved home from the hospital to make room for coronavirus patients. The organization has received close to 2,000 calls.

Airline flights will continue to arrive to Israel from abroad, including from places with a high level of coronavirus, the cabinet decided on Sunday. However, returnees will be required to enter a “coronavirus hotel” for isolation, except under special circumstances.

“In exceptional and exceptional cases, the Health Ministry direct-general, in consultation with the Home Front Command, may authorize a foreigner to stay in isolation for health or humanitarian reasons or other special circumstances,” a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said. The regulation is in effect until April 22.

President Reuven Rivlin spoke on the phone with Pope Francis on the eve of Passover last week, with the two discussing their concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while also sharing holiday greetings. “The coronavirus shows us that it respects no borders and that no-one is immune,” Rivlin told the Pontiff, according to a statement from the president’s office. “We are fighting a stubborn and cruel enemy together, and that is how we will overcome it, working together across the world.”

Rivlin also expressed his appreciation for the Pope’s support in the fight to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort is particularly important “given rising numbers of anti-Semitic incidents as the coronavirus spreads.”

After three weeks in an induced coma, Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, is awake and recovering, the emergency medical organization reports. During a visit to the United States he contracted pneumonia following a coronavirus infection during Purim services in a Miami synagogue. He was hospitalized at University Hospital in Miam.

A lockdown on Bnei Brak will last weeks and maybe even months, according to Major General Roni Noma in an interview with Yisrael Hayom on Sunday.

Israeli soldiers who are enforcing social distancing regulations in the charedi city near Tel Aviv have begun to practice some Yiddish phrases to be able to communicate with the residents, some of whom don’t speak Hebrew.

Deaths

Former New York state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky died April 8 of suspected complications from coronavirus, the New York Post reported. Mr. Brodsky, 73, a Democrat, was a member of the Assembly, representing parts of Westchester County, from 1983 to 2010. He chaired the committee that oversees public authorities and was an expert on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and transit issues.

Mr. Brodsky ran for state attorney general in 2006, dropping out after his daughter needed a kidney transplant.

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner, the long-time former personal secretary of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died on April 7 of coronavirus. He was 88.

Rabbi Groner was born to a family descended from Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic dynasty. After Schneerson passed away, chabad.org reports, Rabbi Groner did not fulfill any official role “but continued to be a beloved mentor and role model for all of Chabad Chasidim. Rabbi Groner used to travel around the world and speak about his experiences with the Rebbe, the lessons he learnt from the Rebbe’s Torah teachings and how people can live better lives through Torah and Chasidus.”

The rabbi is survived by his wife and seven children, some of whom serve as shluchim (emissaries) in the U.S. and Israel.

Helene Aylon, a prominent artist and feminist, died on April 6 of Covid-19. She was 89.

“Her work was often deeply autobiographical, reflecting her own evolution as a woman and as a Jew,” according to JTA.

In 1985, to mark the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ms. Aylon worked with young Japanese women to place sacks filled with rice, grain, pods, and seeds in a river to float toward the two cities. In the 1990s, she began turning toward Judaism in her nine-part work “The G-D Project.” The first installation, “The Liberation of G-d,” was constructed from shelves lined with open copies of the Hebrew Bible. Instances of misogyny, violent language, or a woman’s name omitted from the text were highlighted in pink.

Rabbi A. Bruce Goldman, who was removed as Jewish chaplain at Columbia University for having led student protests of the Vietnam War, died last week at the age of 84, having been sick for much of a year but finally succumbing to the coronavirus. A Reform rabbi, he served at Columbia from 1967-1969.

For years Rabbi Goldman ran a radio program on the progressive New York radio station WBAI. The program was called “Up Against the Wailing Wall,” echoing a more ribald slogan of some’60s leftists. In later years, he made his living performing marriages, often of interfaith couples, and providing pastoral counseling for children of Holocaust survivors and others.

Streaming

Lincoln Square Synagogue will hold a livestreamed Yizkor service (in advance of Thursday’s standard recitation of the mourner’s prayer) Monday at 7:30 p.m. The service will include Ma’ariv and the counting of the Omer. Participants are encouraged to hold or display near them a photograph of family members for whom Yizkor is being said. There will also be musical Hallel led by Chazan Yaakov Lemmer on Tuesday at 9 a.m. Join And on Tuesday at 10:30, Community Intern Mindy Schwartz Zolty will give class on Pesach.

The Jewish National Fund will offer two live-streamed conversations this week: Monday at 1 p.m. with author Matti Friedman and Tuesday at noon with Joaquin Ruiz, Director of University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2.

City Council member Rory Lancman will take part in a livestreamed Town Hall meeting with city Health Department officials on Monday at 1:30 p.m. The event, co-sponsored by Chazaq, the Jamaica Muslim Center and Community Board 8, will be about the coronavirus crisis. Participate by Zoom or phone, (929) 205-6099, code 100 025 841.

Many people in social isolation in recent weeks have remarked that they know how Anne Frank – the famous diarist from Nazi Europe – felt. No, you don’t, Sophie Levitt, a “17-year-old Jewish girl from Chicago with a strong passion for social and environmental activism,” writes in an essay on the Alma website. “There are so many things wrong with this; let me count the ways,” she writes.

UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a guide to help the Jewish community find advice, resources and volunteer opportunities for learning during the virus outbreak. UJA and the Jewish Board also have listings of volunteer opportunities.

Staff writer Stewart Ain contributed to this report.

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