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Leading charedi rabbi dies, Israel tests new drug, a star-studded seder fundraiser
Coronavirus 2020

Leading charedi rabbi dies, Israel tests new drug, a star-studded seder fundraiser

Daily Coronavirus Update

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, known as the Novominsker Rebbe, speaks at the Agudath Israel of America convention in Stamford, Conn., November 2019. (Agudath Israel of America)
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, known as the Novominsker Rebbe, speaks at the Agudath Israel of America convention in Stamford, Conn., November 2019. (Agudath Israel of America)

Passover begins this evening at sundown. The Jewish Week’s Daily Coronavirus Update will resume on Monday, April 13. All of us at the Jewish Week Media Group wish you a happy, meaningful and above all healthy Passover.

Jewish hospital chaplains are adapting to their new roles as intermediaries, as friends and family members of people who have tested positive or exhibited symptoms of Covid-19 are often not permitted to enter the same facility as the patient.

The Jewish Week interviewed a half-dozen Jewish chaplains as New York City recorded more than 72,324 confirmed coronavirus cases, and at least 5,558 deaths.

Rabbi Jo Hirschmann, director of spiritual care at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, said the chaplains call patients in their rooms and sometimes enlist the help of nurses “to hold the phone to the patients’ ear while we speak to them. We are a bridge to family members as well, offering them comfort during a really challenging time. What is heartbreaking is the level of fear and loss across the board. Every single patient in our hospital is a human being with a story and a family that cares about them.”

Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, one of the most prominent leaders of the charedi Jewish community in the United States, died of coronavirus on Tuesday at 89.

Since 1998, Perlow served as the president of Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization for charedi Orthodox Jews that grew out of the Agudath Israel movement in Poland that his grandfather co-founded. Perlow also headed the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America, the Agudath’s rabbinic ruling body.

A resident of Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, he was known as the Novominsker Rebbe. The rabbi was one of the first Orthodox leaders to warn about the dangers of the pandemic and to stress the need to follow the guidelines issued by the government. A rabbinic leader of Agudath Israel of America, he was born in New York, the son of the previous Novominsker Rebbe, Nachum Mordechai Perlow.

Joe Biden, in a Passover greeting he and his wife Jill issued to the Jewish community, stressed the optimism-building message of the Pesach story. “If Passover teaches us anything,” the Democratic presidential hopeful stated, “it’s that a united and open-hearted people can come through any challenge and emerge stronger on the other side. The American people and the people of all nations are facing down a new challenge today — a treacherous journey across unfamiliar terrain. And like the heroes of the Passover story, we will survive that journey by calling upon the values that define us: our caring for strangers, our strength in unity, and our faith in better days.”

Yad Vashem has urged the public to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day by recording themselves reciting the names of Holocaust victims and sharing the video on social media using the campaign’s hashtags #RememberingFromHome #ShoahNames.

The two largest Reform congregations in Spain have come together to create a large, active virtual community, JTA reports.

The Reform Community of Madrid and Barcelona’s Bet Shalom have “band[ed] together to help people celebrate on their own” in the days before Passover. Among the joint activities: a presentation on how to lead a seder; a video on making homemade matzah; Romina Reisin, a Passover-themed songs music workshop; and shared Passover recipes.

Jewish celebrities will hold a livestreamedSaturday Night Seder to raise money to help first responders dealing with the coronavirus. The actors, singers and religious scholars taking part on Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern include Henry Winkler, Idina Menzel, Andy Cohen, Josh Groban and Billy Eichner, Ben Platt, Alan Menken, Jason Alexander, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Mayim Bialik, Rachel Brosnahan, Fran Drescher, Harvey Fierstein and Judith Light.

Ganey Orly kosher restaurant in Queens’ Rego Park neighborhood has expanded delivery of kosher meals to the nearby Long Island Jewish Medical Center to some 250 health care workers around the city. Owner Rafael Israelov, whose son is a nursing student, has supplied the food at no cost through the generosity of contributors to a fundraiser he conducted on Facebook, the website reported. He plans to feed 1,000 hospital staffers by the end of the month, he said.


The count of people in Israel diagnosed with Covid-19 on Wednesday, the eve of Passover, reached 9,404.

The Keshet 12 television network will broadcast “The Great Israeli Seder Live,” featuring a long list of prominent Israelis, the Times of Israel reports.

Participants will include President Reuven Rivlin, politicians Avigdor Liberman and Yair Lapid, comics Rotem Abuhav, Shayke Levi and Hanoch Daum and several journalists, TV personalities, and entertainers.

Israel is among the first countries in the world to receive an experimental Japanese drug to treat coronavirus, for testing at hospitals throughout the country, according to the Jerusalem Post. The Foreign Ministry announced that testing in China has found the flu medicine Avigan, produced by Japan’s Fujifilm Holding Corp., as helpful in treating Covid-19 in its early stages.

Israel has signed a $25 million deal with Chinese firm BGI to supply equipment that will allow 10,000 coronavirus tests a day. The new equipment will be installed in six different labs over the next few weeks.

An El Al plane carrying enough chemical reagents to perform tens of thousands of coronavirus tests left from South Korea for Israel early Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said. A shortage of these materials had caused a large drop in the number of tests performed daily.

Some 30,000 protective suits for medical teams were also flown over in the emergency airlift, the ministry said.

Israel sent matzahs and other essential Passover items to the tiny Jewish community in Egypt, the Times of Israel reports. In a “complex operation,” Israel’s Embassy in Cairo and Jewish organizations managed to get boxes of kosher for Passover food to the Jewish communities in Cairo and Alexandria, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Even in the difficult reality created by the worldwide coronavirus crisis, we are not forgetting our brothers in the small Jewish community of Egypt,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said.

About 20 known Jews now live in Egypt, most in Cairo.


Donald Feldstein, whose distinguished career in Jewish communal service spanned more than six decades, died on April 4 of heart failure and the coronavirus. He was 88, and a resident of Riverdale, NY.

Feldstein held executive positions at the New York and MetroWest (NJ) Jewish Federations, the American Jewish Committee and the Council of Jewish Federations (now the Jewish Federations of North America). He was influential in promoting endogamous marriage and an increased Jewish birthrate in countering assimilation.

Frida Wattenberg, who was active in the Jewish resistance to the Nazis during World War II, has died at 95 of coronavirus, reported the Paris Holocaust Memorial.

Born to Polish Jewish parents, she grew up in Paris and joined the Hashomer Hatzaïr movement in the 1930s. During the war, she joined the Children’s Aid Organization (OSE), for which she made false identity papers. Later she went to the city of Grenoble, in the Italian occupation zone, where she joined the Jewish resistance, leading groups of children to Annecy for their passage to Switzerland. She was transferred to Toulouse and joined the resistance organization of the Jewish Army, which distributed false papers and participated in the Liberation fighting.

After the war, Frida Wattenberg worked at OPEJ, which cared for children whose parents died in deportation.


Natan Sharansky, onetime Russian refusenik and former chairman of the Jewish Agency, has recorded a Passover message to the Jewish people.

The Israel Philharmonic has issued a musical Pesach greeting to the Jewish community.

The Jewish Funders Network has launched a new resource that catalogs the Jewish community’s Covid-19-related needs and philanthropic responses, as well as a revamped Resource Hub that contains detailed materials for various sectors, such as human services and Jewish day schools

Stuck at home with the kids and not sure how to keep them occupied over Passover? Kveller has some suggestions.

Finding it hard to keep your sense of humor these days? Then enter the “The Last Annual Catskills-In-Your-Living-Room Jewish Jokefest.” Participants are asked to bring a joke to tell during a global Zoom session on Sunday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

Integrity First For America, the nonpartisan group battling neo-Nazis and white supremacists, has prepared a Seder Supplement that stresses “the rise of white supremacy and violent hate in our own country.”

Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi, an Israeli school, has recorded a series of podcasts to help people understand the Haggadah.

Rabbis Simon Jacobson and Shlomo Simcha, popular speakers and authors, have produced “A 15 Step Soulful and Musical Journey of Healing and Transformation through the Seder,” a musical guide to the Passover meal, which includes videos and PDF download.

Torah Umesorah, the national association of Jewish day schools, has produced an audio two-part series on “How to Achieve a Meaningful Seder for All.” The lectures are given by Rabbi Nosson Muller, a veteran educator and author of “Generation to Generation Haggadah.”

Three California authors, Marika Brussel, Caroline Kessler, Sarah Stone and Dan Schifrin, will take part in a Zoom discussion on JewishLearningWorks’ “Exile at Home: The Humor Issue” Sunday at 5 p.m.

Rabbi Mark Greenspan, rabbi emeritus of the Oceanside Jewish Center, has written a “Rabbinical Assembly Haggadah Supplement.”

HIAS has released a new Passover resource to accompany the HIAS Haggadah: an animated companion that brings the pages of the Haggadah to life.

The Blue Dove Foundation, which deals with mental illness and substance abuse in the Jewish community, has produced an online “mental health Passover seder plate” to help people deal with the mental health issues presented by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. “

Temple Israel of the City of New York has compiled resources on the theme “How to do Passover,” including background on the Haggadah and details on leading a virtual seder.

Partners in Torah, an educational organization that arranges over-the-phone learning partners to study Jewish texts, has produced its own seder guide.

Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita in Beverly Hills, offers suggestions for running a virtual seder.

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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