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Synagogues stay closed, kosher meals at NYC schools, a new workplace harassment hotline
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Coronavirus 2020Daily Update

Synagogues stay closed, kosher meals at NYC schools, a new workplace harassment hotline

A man takes part in a protest to reopen Pennsylvania businesses  and houses of worship in Harrisburg, April 20, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
A man takes part in a protest to reopen Pennsylvania businesses and houses of worship in Harrisburg, April 20, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Synagogues in the Republican-led states that are relaxing some restrictions — including Georgia, Texas and South Carolina– aren’t reopening anytime soon. 

Most synagogues appear to be declining the invitation to reopen, saying they believe that staying closed is necessary for the health of their congregants and communities.

“We are very sensitive to the fact that people are being economically impacted by the closures, but we’re more concerned about the possible loss of life if there’s a second wave so soon,” Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta, told JTA. Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, announced earlier this week that some businesses could begin reopening, and houses of worship could resume services this weekend.

In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has announced plans to roll back restrictions in early May, 11 Orthodox rabbis in Dallas issued a collective letter explaining their decision to keep their synagogues closed. “Religious communities, with their heavily social communal lives, are at greater risk for reinfection during this pandemic, and its members are most likely to represent vectors for the spread of the disease once again to the general population,” the letter states. “As such, it is premature to reopen shuls at this time.”

At Rabbi Heller’s synagogue, deaths among congregants more than doubled over the usual rate in recent weeks due to the coronavirus. At the same time, some congregants are also struggling financially and have received assistance from the synagogue.

“I have not had a lot of voices within my congregation calling in favor of reopening in-person worship,” the rabbi said. “I think by and large the people who I am talking to, even some of those who are in favor of the reopening on principle, are not actually themselves leaving their homes.”

New York City’s Department of Education is offering kosher and halal options during all three daily “grab and go” meal pick-ups provided to families while schools are closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Orthodox Union’s Teach NYS project praised the effort, thanking City Council members Mark Tregyer, Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger and State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein for promoting the DOE action.

Teach NYS – along with UJA-Federation and The Jewish Education Project – began their advocacy for kosher and halal food options upon learning in March that meals for people with religious dietary restrictions were not available during the citywide school closure.

A new Jewish organization has launched a call line to support individuals who have experienced or witnessed gender abuse, discrimination and harassment in “their Jewish workplace or communal space.”

Ta’amod: Stand Up! says it helps Jewish communal organizations and institutions create “safe, respectful, and equitable workplaces and communal spaces.” The initiative offers emotional support, legal information, advocacy, counseling, and referrals to vetted local and national experts nationwide. The call line [833-760-0330], is free, anonymous and confidential.

Ta’amod is an initiative of the Good People Fund and the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York

The Great Kosher Restaurants Media Group has joined with the Fountain of Kindness organization to start a “Foodies Give Back” initiative, which sends food to hundreds of medical professionals on the front lines and families in need of food. For more information: www.FoodiesGiveBack.com.

Israel

The number of people in Israel diagnosed with the coronavirus reached 14,882 on Friday; 193 have died of it.

Two senior haredi rabbis in Israel published a joint letter Thursday saying yeshivas will not be reopened at this time, after one of them reportedly wanted to open the schools and after the pair warned earlier this week of “drastic steps” if the government fails to soon find a way to relax coronavirus restrictions, according to the Times of Israel.

Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, among the most senior leaders of Lithuanian Orthodox Jews, said seminary students are required to stay at home for yeshivas’ three daily summer study  sessions. Those who need to help with housework can study just two sessions, they said. Earlier, Rabbi Kanievsky had appeared to insist that yeshiva study halls be reopened, and Rabbi Edelstein disagreed.

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital has begun carrying out coronavirus tests that provide results within an hour and a half, the Times of Israel reports. The testing center is using American technology designed to perform a small number of tests in a short amount of time. This is in contrast to the prevailing technology used in Israel that allows for a large number of samples to be tested at a time, but takes days to provide results.

A significant drawback of the new type of testing is the cost — roughly four times the amount required for the mass-sampling technology. The rapid-result technology will only be used when quick results are required, such as for screenings of hospital-admitted patients and in maternity wards, according to a statement from Ichilov.

Deaths

Rabbi Yeshayahu Haber, the charedi founder of the “Gift of Life” (Matnat Chaim) organization, died on Thursday at 55 of Covid-19.

A Jerusalem resident, he had over the past decade become a leading proponent of kidney donations from living donors. Some 800 families have been aided by his organization.

He was hospitalized at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, a hospital that had a close relationship with the rabbi and Gift of Life over the years. Many lifesaving transplants there were carried out thanks to his organization.

Streaming

UJA-Federation will present a program on “how UJA is responding to the current crisis that has personally affected so many of us” on April 30 at 7 p.m. The event will feature Long Island synagogues. Aston Bright, a Florida firefighter who volunteered to fight terrorist-related arson attacks in Israel, will share his story.

The Drisha Institute for Jewish Education will offer webinars on “Halachic Responses to Coronavirus” on Mondays at 2 p.m. during the next three weeks. To join: drisha.org/live or Facebook Live @drishainstitute or Zoom (WEBINAR ID 643-4397-6025, Password 080216).

The Ohr Torah Stone Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation will conduct a Hallel (Psalms 113-118) service on April 29th at 4:30 p.m. It will be led by singer Israel Portnoy.

On the eve of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, Masa Israel Journey will host hosting a virtual ceremony — Monday at 1 p.m.

The event, partially pre-recorded in Latrun and taking place online, will feature President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin; Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; David Koschitzky, chairman of the Keren Hayesod-UIA Board of Trustees; and Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs will sponsor a webinar on “Women During the Pandemic on Monday at 11 a.m. “Women are on the frontlines of the #COVID-19 response as they make-up the majority of health care workers and others most affected. Many face specific challenges during this period such as domestic violence and access to reproductive healthcare.”

Combatants for Peace and Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace will hold a six-hour joint live-streamed Israel-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony on April 29 starting at 1 p.m. A number of U.S. Jewish organizations are signed on as organizers. Speakers will include Israeli and Palestinian activists, advocates and artists “who have transformed their adversity into constructive action and care for each other’s histories and struggles.”

The Jewish Women’s Archive is offering a platform for publicly honoring health care workers during the coronavirus crisis. The Archive is inviting people to submit free tributes in its online “We Celebrate” collection. The normal minimum donation of $118 per tribute is being waived for tributes acknowledging Jewish women in the health care sector.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder published an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post urging Jews worldwide to “overcome that which divides us, rediscover what unites us, and above all, support one another.”

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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