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Cases spike among Israeli Orthodox, lone soldiers pitch in, library builds a Jewish coronavirus archive
Coronavirus 2020

Cases spike among Israeli Orthodox, lone soldiers pitch in, library builds a Jewish coronavirus archive

IDF soldiers donate blood  in partnership with Magen David Adom, in  an effort to boost blood supplies during the coronavirus outbreak. 
(Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers donate blood in partnership with Magen David Adom, in an effort to boost blood supplies during the coronavirus outbreak. (Israel Defense Forces)

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While major Orthodox leaders here and in Israel have urged followers not to gather in groups for prayer, mourning or celebration, authorities remain concerned over communities ignoring “social distancing” directives.

In Israel, where charedi Orthodox Jews make up only 12 percent of the population, 40 to 60 percent of coronavirus patients at four major hospitals are from the community, The New York Times reports, citing Israeli media. In the charedi Tel Aviv neighborhood of Bnei Brak, “the number of confirmed cases nearly doubled in the last three days, from 267 on Friday to 508 on Monday.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that gatherings by the charedi Orthodox were “putting the majority at risk.” “No public prayers. No weddings, not even with less than 10 people. Funerals will be held with 20 people in open areas,” he said.

Netanyahu spoke from his home, where he is in self-quarantine after his Knesset adviser, Rebecca Paluch, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. Netanyahu and his family tested negative, although the prime minister will remain in quarantine per Health Ministry regulations.

Meanwhile, a Brooklyn attorney has filed a lawsuit accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of violating his right to free speech and ability to observe his Jewish faith because of the state’s ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus. Lee Nigen also alleges that by telling state residents to limit travel, Cuomo has violated his right to meet with clients, friends, family and “like-minded people,” the New York Post reported.

A New Jersey man sent Facebook messages to the state’s governor and others threatening harm to Orthodox Jews for violating state coronavirus restrictions. Anthony Lodespoto, 43, of Howell, was charged Friday with making terroristic threats during a state of emergency, law enforcement officials said in a statement.

As of Thursday, nearby Lakewood, which includes a large charedi Orthodox enclave, had 198 confirmed Covid-19 cases, by far the most in Ocean County, according to the county Health Department, the Asbury Park Press news site reported.

Elsewhere, the Jewish community of Bucharest, Romania, has received a rabbinical allowance to bury coronavirus victims on Shabbat, according to Israel’s Haredi 10 news website. Romanian authorities ordered last week that victims of the disease must be buried, or cremated – which is not permitted by Jewish law — on the day of their death. Rabbi Yaakov Rojah of Israel’s Zaka volunteer community emergency response organization identified a possible precedent that would allow a non-Jew to bury the body of a Jewish person.


The Ministry of the Economy and major supermarket chains in Israel, where the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus was 4,831 on Tuesday, have stated that there will be no shortage of matzah for Passover this year, the Hamodia newspaper reported. A spokesperson for the country’s largest supermarket chain said that “one or two” of its stores had experienced a brief shortage due to “hysteria buying” but that the chain had plenty of stock and did not expect any shortage.

The ministry said on Monday that matzah production facilities were well prepared for any increase in demand and that they had sufficient raw ingredients to meet any spike in demand.

Tel Aviv-Yafo City Hall was lit on Monday evening with the Magen David Adom symbol, a red Star of David, as a token of gratitude and appreciation for the workers and volunteers of the national medical emergency service.

The Defense Ministry is experimenting to determine if dogs can be taught to identify if a person is carrying the coronavirus, Israel’s Channel 13 reports. The experiment is trying to teach dogs from the IDF’s elite Oketz Canine Unit to detect the virus by using saliva samples from coronavirus patients.

Sheba Medical Center in Israel has become the first hospital in the world to open a coronavirus care unit specifically created for psychiatric inpatients who have contracted Covid-19.

“At any given time, there are 3,500 psychiatric patients hospitalized in Israel. By treating all psychiatric inpatients with coronavirus in one place, we can better ensure that lack of adherence to social distancing practices does not lead to widespread infection within psychiatric hospitals across Israel,” said Prof. Mark Weiser, head of the psychiatric division at Sheba, in a statement.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers, including some 208 Lone Soldiers from the New York area, have been ordered to remain on base for an indefinite period of time to minimize their exposure to the virus. While quarantined on their bases, the soldiers are helping the Israeli national effort through blood drives and by managing two — and soon to be four — hotels that have been converted into quarantine and rehabilitation centers for civilians.

Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) has implemented programs to address the emergency needs of soldiers quarantined on bases, and at home. FIDF staff in Israel is distributing tens of thousands of hygiene kits; gym supplies, which consist of various weights and equipment; yoga mats; snack and sweet packages; Sony PlayStations; and more to the IDF soldiers.


The Orthodox Union has prepared an online “Passover Toolkit” with videos, tips and articles for people making Passover for the first time as well as those who have made it for years.

Torah Umesorah, the national association of Orthodox Jewish day schools, will sponsor a webinar with “Guidance for Educators During COVID-19,” featuring Rabbi Berel Wein on Tuesday at 8 p.m. On Thursday at 9 p.m. Rabbi Yaakov Bender will be the featured speaker.  To participate: (978) 992-5000; access code 407335.

Mayyim Hayyim, a Boston mikveh, will host a webinar conversation on “Mikveh Use in the Age of COVID-19: An Open Conversation for Visitors, Volunteers, and Staff”Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The event is sponsored in partnership with SVIVAH and Yeshivat Maharat.

Alana Newhouse, editor of the online Tablet magazine, and New York Times columnist Bari Weiss will participate in a video conference sponsored by Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Their topic is “Passover During a Plague.”

Top experts from Israel’s Sheba Medical Center will take part on Wednesday at noon in a medical webinar offering insights on “food, dieting and intimacy in the midst of coronavirus.” Questions can be submitted in advance via an online form or to

Sarah Bunim Benor, professor of contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), has collected hints for leading a virtual seder with “added spiritual nourishment.” Her information includes a Haggadah supplement that illustrates seder traditions from around the world, suggestions for a collage or album of depictions of seder night through the ages, and translations of “Who Knows One” in several languages.

Author Abigael Pogrebin has compiled advice from six prominent rabbis on how to get through “this year’s surreal seder.” The participants are Elazar Muskin, Erin Leib Smokier, Chaim Steinmetz, Lizzi Heydemann, Lisa Messinger and Jeffrey Sirkman.

HIAS has issued an updated 2020 Haggadah that brings attention to the U.S. refugee crisisand with coronavirus closing borders around the world, refugees and asylum seekers. The immigration agency calls it “one of the few complete Haggadahs in the social justice space (as opposed to just a supplement).”

The National Library of Israel has created a Jewish Community COVID-19 Archive, which will document “the unprecedented impact the current coronavirus pandemic is having on Jewish culture, tradition, law, and society globally.” The Library is requesting public in Israel and across the Jewish world to contribute digital and physical materials reflecting this impact, including things such as synagogue emails about communal prayer on Zoom; public appeals to help lonely community members; announcements about innovative halachic (Jewish legal) rulings; promotional materials for creative Jewish distance learning initiatives; posters for emergency loans, etc. Digital materials and inquiries may be sent to

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.

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