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Cuomo closes yeshivas, NY native buys El Al, a spiritual debate over Trump’s health
Daily Update

Cuomo closes yeshivas, NY native buys El Al, a spiritual debate over Trump’s health

Men exit a yeshiva in Borough Park on Sept. 29, 2020. The neighborhood is one of several Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City experiencing an uptick in Covid cases. (Daniel Moritz-Rabson)
Men exit a yeshiva in Borough Park on Sept. 29, 2020. The neighborhood is one of several Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City experiencing an uptick in Covid cases. (Daniel Moritz-Rabson)

In the latest tug of war over how to handle rising Covid-19 cases in New York City, Gov. Cuomo has ordered schools in nine Zip codes to close today.

That deadline is a day earlier than Mayor Bill de Blasio had set — and equally irrelevant for the hundreds of Jewish schools in the areas, most of which are closed right now because of the Sukkot holiday, JTA reports.

While De Blasio’s plan did not include synagogue closures, Cuomo said he would move to close synagogues if community leaders did not agree to impose strict safety measures.

Cuomo also announced that he would take over efforts to enforce social distancing and mask mandates in New York City areas with rising cases, many of which are home to significant Orthodox populations.

Perspectives: Eli Steinberg, a rabbi and writer active in Jewish communal politics in Lakewood, NJ, argues in the Forward that “Cuomo and de Blasio have chosen to single out Orthodox and Haredi Jews for punitive measures.” And the liberal New York Jewish Agenda “applauds the mayor and the governor for taking decisive action to confront COVID-19 hotspots based on science and sound public health data.” Read their full statement here

Related: Rabbi Mordechai David Unger, head of a faction of the Bobov chasidic sect, has tested positive for Covid-19, one week after city health officials hailed him as a role model after he was photographed wearing a mask indoors.

In Israel: A funeral that had gotten special permission to include hundreds of people instead drew thousands to the Israeli city of Ashdod, resulting in clashes between mourners and police who attempted to disperse them. Rabbi Mordechai Leifer, 65, known as the Rebbe of Pittsburgh, died of the coronavirus amid Israel’s current spike in cases. His chasidic movement was founded in Pittsburgh about 100 years ago, and he had led his followers, several dozen families, in Ashdod for decades.

Eli Rozenberg, a 27-year-old New York-born yeshiva student who lives in Jerusalem, became the owner of Israel’s embattled national carrier El Al on Wednesday.

The son of millionaire U.S. businessman Kenny Rozenberg, Eli’s $75 million bid was the only one placed at a share offering at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Some in Israel argued that selling to him would amount to a circumvention of the law prohibiting non-Israelis from owning the airline. Eli Rozenberg is a resident of Israel and an Israeli citizen, but his father, who owns a nursing home chain in the United States and who many suspect is pulling the strings behind the deal, is not.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) met with members of the Democratic Majority for Israel, as he seeks the influential chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meeks, Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Joaquin Castro of Texas are meeting with donors and staff of pro-Israel groups and asking them to lobby the party leadership. Eliot Engel of New York, the current committee chairman, was defeated in a primary this summer by a progressive, Jamaal Bowman. Whoever replaces Engel will face growing calls from the party’s left-wing to put more pressure on Israel, JTA reports.

In the DMFI meetings, Meeks and Sherman clarified what appeared to be their earlier endorsement of a proposal, popular among the party’s left, that Congress should ban assistance to Israel from being used to annex parts of the West Bank. They said they were simply pointing out that defense assistance cannot in any case be used for annexation or for other uses.

Last week Meeks met privately with J Street, which has scheduled   meetings with Castro and Sherman for this week.

A New York native shared the Nobel Prize in medicine. 

Harvey Alter, a Jewish researcher at the National Institutes of Health, was among the three scientists cited for their contributions to the discovery of the virus for hepatitis C. Alter, 85, was born in New York and attended medical school at the University of Rochester.

President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis has led to an intense debate among his critics: when and whether to pray for the health of someone you consider an enemy.

JTA polled rabbis: Rabbi Emily Cohen of West End Synagogue gathered Jewish texts on the topic and concluded that “it seems fairly clear that wishing for harm to befall another has the potential to harm the wisher on a moral level.” Rabbi Zach Fredman, formerly of The New Shul in New York, said he couldn’t stop himself “from wishing that the disease works strongly upon [Trump], kills him even,” but agreed that thoughts like that are harmful. And Rabbi Yosie Levine of The Jewish Center in New York concludes that “every American and every Jew should pray for his well-being. The office of the president is larger than any one person and there are times when personal feelings must give way to national considerations.”

Perspective: The Jewish Week’s editor in chief, Andrew Silow-Carroll, says the debate over praying for the president is an understandable reaction to the anger and divisiveness that are Trump’s trademarks.


Richard Schifter, a Holocaust survivor who served as an American diplomat, has died at the age of 97. Schifter was the American representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and deputy representative to the U.N. Security Council. Under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, he served as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.

Around the Agencies

Hidden Sparks, a nonprofit helping teachers and schools educate struggling learners, has released five tips for teachers to support students in mainstream Jewish day schools during the transition. Hidden Sparks spent the summer months studying the impact that virtual learning has had on students and how teachers can rise to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. The tips were developed by Hidden Sparks’ social emotional learning coach Lily Howard Scott. Over the coming weeks, Hidden Sparks Without Walls will be offering free programming to assist teachers and parents help ease the impact of the transition between in-class and virtual learning.

The Shalom Hartman Institute kicks off its Hartman@Home fall learning with a two-week symposium on the key civic issues facing the Jewish community today. The events, from October 18-30,  will include salons, panels, book talks and deeper learning opportunities, plus a daily 25-minute  take on the role of a citizen in a democracy featuring 10 different global Hartman scholars. All sessions are free of charge. Register here.

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation is expanding PJ Library to six new countries and two new languages. Programs in Brazil, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are shipping children’s books to thousands of families for the first time, and new programs are launching in Ireland and Estonia. The expansion marks the first time that PJ Library has distributed books in Portuguese and German. PJ Library now distributes more than 680,000 children’s books each month to Jewish families around the world in 29 countries and 7 languages. More than 250,000 books are mailed monthly here in North America.

Streaming Today

T’ruah continues its series of webinars exploring Jewish law and ethics for the age of Covid-19 with a discussion of Americans who are in danger of losing stable housing. Tamar Zaken, Chief Program Officer at HaMaqom|The Place in Berkeley, Calif., and Dr. Raphael Magarik, an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will lead a discussion of how Jewish law and lore reframe thought about rental agreements and tenants’ rights, and present their research findings from T’ruah’s Jewish Law and Ethics Hackathon. Register here. 1:00 pm.

Jewish Currents presents the second webinar in its series, “Jews, Class, and History,” with a virtual roundtable exploring Jewish upward mobility in the 1950s and communal responses to it, and how wealthy people respond to wealth inequality today. 4:00 pm.

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