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Nursing home deaths, synagogue changes, a Senate bill to promote Israeli medical tech
Coronavirus 2020Daily Coronavirus Update

Nursing home deaths, synagogue changes, a Senate bill to promote Israeli medical tech

Twenty-one residents at JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield in Western Massachusetts, died of causes related to Covid-19, according to reports. (Via Facebook)
Twenty-one residents at JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield in Western Massachusetts, died of causes related to Covid-19, according to reports. (Via Facebook)

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Thirty-two residents at two Massachusetts Jewish senior living facilities that are part of the same nonprofit network have died from Covid-19, and scores of other residents and staff have tested positive for the virus, JTA reports. Eleven residents of Chelsea Jewish Life Care, across its three Boston-area locations, and 21 residents at JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow, a suburb of Springfield in Western Massachusetts, died, according to letters to families posted earlier this week on the websites of both facilities.

“The loss of so many of our loved ones is reflective of the severity of some manifestations of this terrible disease,” wrote Adam Berman, president and Barry Berman, CEO. “We offer our sincere condolences to their families and share in their grief.”

The pandemic is hitting seniors living in residential facilities especially hard, The Jewish Week reports. One of the first documented outbreaks in the United States affected a nursing home, and the death toll at Amsterdam’s Jewish senior home stood at 15 last week. Jewish homes, like many others, have adjusted their practices to try to curb the disease’s spread, but outbreaks are continuing.

The Jewish Week also reports on the way the coronavirus is transforming synagogue life, and how rabbis are also adjusting to new opportunities to create virtual communities.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) will promote a bipartisan bill to create a partnership between Israel and the US to treat coronavirus, the senators’ offices announced. They’ll push for a $12 million appropriation in the next relief bill, “to enhance partnerships between companies in the United States and Israel to develop innovative medical projects aimed at detecting, treating, and curing Covid-19.”

According to the proposed bill, the Secretary of Health and Human Services could invest up to $4 million dollars every year from 2021 through 2023 in bilateral programs and grants related to the novel coronavirus. The proposed budget would cover cooperation on technology such as artificial intelligence, sensors, monitoring devices, drugs and vaccinations, respiratory assist devices, diagnostic tests, telemedicine and remote monitoring.

The United States is providing “$5M for Palestinian hospitals and households to meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19,U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted. The Trump administration cut nearly all aid to the Palestinians beginning in 2017. The emergency grants do not represent a policy change, administration officials said.


The number of coronavirus cases in Israel has begun to level, as the Health Ministry on Friday reported that 12,855 people had been diagnosed with the virus. So far, 148 people in the country have died of Covid-19. Of the country’s 182 serious patients, 129 are on ventilators — an 8% drop from the day before.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a general plan to ease restrictions on economic activity and “stay home” orders, potentially allowing some businesses to open as soon as next week, the Times of Israel reports. Netanyahu’s office described the plan, which still must be approved by the full cabinet, as “responsible, cautious and gradual” and said it would allow for a limited opening of businesses.

No specific timeline for the plan was detailed, but some businesses could reopen as early as next week. The Finance Ministry will draw up a “pilot plan” for some sectors of the economy to open in accordance with Health Ministry social distancing guidelines. Among the criteria likely to be included are regular disinfecting, taking customers’ temperatures and abiding by social distancing regulations, according to reports.

A team of Israeli researchers says that they are about to complete production of the active component of a coronavirus vaccine that could be tested on humans as early as June 1.

“We are in the final stages and within a few days we will hold the proteins – the active component of the vaccine,” Dr. Chen Katz, group leader of MIGAL’s biotechnology group, told the Jerusalem Post. MIGAL (The Galilee Research Institute) in February had committed to completing production of its vaccine within three weeks and having it on the market in 90 days. Katz said they were slightly delayed because it took longer than expected to receive the genetic construct that they ordered from China due to travel restrictions.

Two Hebrew University researchers have developed a faster and cheaper way to test for Covid-19 using materials commonly found in diagnostic labs.

The work of Nir Friedman of the school’s Institute of Life Sciences and School of Engineering and Computer Science and Naomi Habib of the Lily Safra Center for Brain Science would improve the testing technique that involves the extraction of RNA molecules from a patients’ swab sample to see whether they contain viral RNA that confirms the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

The researchers’ next step is to develop a method that would allow for tens of thousands of samples to be tested simultaneously instead of the current rate of thousands of tests.

The Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has provided the Hebrew University with $4 million to fund coronavirus researchThe donation will fund 60 research teams that are working to find a vaccine, produce faster and cheaper testing methods, and develop targeted treatments for those battling Covid-19. Baroness Ariane de Rothschild said, “We see science as a key tool for enhancing human capabilities, and it is symbolic that Israel, with its world-leading academic institutions and medical centers, would lead also on this front.”


Hal Willner, a music producer who worked on “Saturday Night Live” since 1980, died April on 7 at 64 of complications of coronavirus.

His father, a Holocaust survivor, owned a Philadelphia delicatessen where Mr. Willner worked through his childhood. He told The New York in 2017 that his father’s tales of the concentration camps mixed with the Americana in which he was immersed to create an “imagined world that was simultaneously dark and ludicrous.”

Lee Konitz, a legendary alto saxophone soloist who took part in Miles Davis’ historic “Birth of the Cool” jazz sessions in 1949 and became best known as an improvisationist, died on Wednesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He was 92, and the cause was pneumonia, related to Covid-19.

Konitz was born in Chicago to two Jewish immigrant parents; his father Abraham owned a laundry. “There was something in-groupish about the Jewish people that I saw, that I didn’t like,” he once recalled to an interviewer. Still, he acknowledged, “When you’re Jewish, it’s hard to keep it a secret…. But I don’t broadcast it. If someone asks, I tell them my heritage, but I don’t practice ‘Jewishness’ – except with jokes!” He also expressed a fondness for the Jewish composers of the American songbook, including George Gershwin and Jerome Kern. “Without Jerome Kern, I might be in the laundry business!” he once said.


New York’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance will be held virtually on Sunday, April 19 at 2 p.m., presented by the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The event will include participation of feature remarks from Museum Chairman Bruce Ratner, Senator Chuck Schumer, Israeli Ambassador Dani Dayan, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and actress Julianna Margulies.

The public is invited to participate by taking a video or photograph of themselves lighting a candle in remembrance and saying or providing the name of a family member killed in the Holocaust or a Holocaust survivor who has passed. They can upload the video or photograph to the Museum’s Facebook page and use the hashtag #CandlesOfRemembrance.

March of the Living announced that the 2020 March will not take place because of coronavirus, but the organization is launching a global Holocaust remembrance project  that will provide the opportunity to place a virtual memorial plaque against the backdrop of the infamous train tracks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Individual plaques and messages can be placed via a dedicated mini-site. 

ShalomLearning will provide Hebrew School curriculum for free during the current closure of schools. “Our number one priority is assuring that Jewish children have the opportunity to learn Jewish values, which are critical to leading a meaningful life,” said Josh Troderman, ShalomLearning’s CEO.

Keshet, a Jewish organization that works for the equality of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life, will sponsor a livestreamed conversation among Rabbi Becky Silverstein, Keshet’s 2020 Boston OUTstanding honoree; Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael, Keshet’s director of education and training; and S. Bear Bergman, a past OUTstanding honoree. They will discuss how to build a Jewish community and “a world that allows everyone to express their full selves.”

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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