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Health Dept. Forces Yeshivas in Queens, Brooklyn to Close Due to Covid-19
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Health Dept. Forces Yeshivas in Queens, Brooklyn to Close Due to Covid-19

Magen David Yeshivah and Torah Academy for Girls notified parents in emails this week.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

NYC health officials instructed the elementary school to close, according to an email sent out to parents Tuesday night. magendavidyeshivah.org
NYC health officials instructed the elementary school to close, according to an email sent out to parents Tuesday night. magendavidyeshivah.org

A yeshiva elementary school in Brooklyn and a girls yeshiva in Queens informed community members that they will be closing due to an outbreak in Covid-19 cases, The Jewish Week has learned.

Magen David Yeshivah in Brooklyn sent out an email to families on Tuesday evening informing parents that the Department of Health has “instructed us to close our Elementary School building effective tomorrow.”

“We will be permitted to return to our school building after Sukkot on Monday, October 12th,” the email, signed by principal Rabbi Alan Berkowitz said. In the meantime, grades K through 8 will “switch to remote learning”; the early childhood program and high school will remain open, the email states.

The Jewish Week reached out to Magen David elementary school via phone for comment. At the time of publication, the school had not yet responded.

Torah Academy for Girls (TAG), a yeshiva high school in Far Rockaway, Queens was also forced to close due to Covid-19 on Wednesday night.

The Torah Academy for Girls in Far Rockaway said in a letter that they were forced to temporarily close by the New York City Department of Health on Sept. 23 (Image via Google Maps)

A letter sent to the parent body on that night informed community members that the school had “received a phone call from the NYC Department of Health ordering that the school be closed effective immediately.”

“We have not been provided with any specific details as relates to the reasons, causes or duration of the closure. We anticipate a meeting with the DOH tomorrow morning at which we hope to receive additional information which we will share with you,” continued the email, signed by the school’s dean, Rabbi Meyer Weitman.

A school secretary from TAG told The Jewish Week that “no one is going to talk to you right now,” when reached for comment via phone. “We’re all operating remotely and we don’t know anything else yet,” she said. “We take each day as it comes.”

Classes will take place on Zoom beginning today through the Sukkot holiday, the email stated.

Earlier this week, city officials expressed concern over the rising number of Covid-19 cases in six heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, several of which are now being termed the “Ocean Parkway Cluster” by health department officials. Cases have continued to rise  — tripling from Aug. 1 to Sept. 19, according to data — despite robocalls from health department officials targeting Orthodox neighborhoods and pleas for testing and mask wearing from the mayor himself.

Earlier this month, Magen David sent out a strongly worded email warning families to follow social distance protocols as new cases became prevalent.

“Covid 19 is present in our community and serious cases are once again emerging,” read an email sent out the Magen David Yeshiva community sent out early last week and signed by the elementary and high school principals along with the school’s board. “We are still in the midst of a pandemic, yet members of our community continue to choose to behave in ways that threaten other people’s safety and put at risk out ability to keep school open.”

The Magen David letter goes on to delineate “unacceptable behavior that must stop immediately” and enforce new safety protocols, including wearing masks in accordance with school policy, following dismissal protocol and not attending community events deemed “superspreaders.”

“At this time, it seems that we must use more direct and clear language in having people understand the seriousness of the current situation and the expectations that are in place for all MDY families,” the previous Magen David email reads.

While many of the cases over the last six weeks have been linked to the large weddings typical of Orthodox communities, the spread of the coronavirus in the communities has likely been exacerbated by other factors, including many synagogues returning to their pre-pandemic capacities for the Jewish High Holidays, despite the continued threat of the pandemic.

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