Monthly Archives: March 2020

Rabbi Reuven Fink, Suffering From Coronavirus, Tells Jewish Community To Persevere

The below letter, which was written by Rabbi Reuven Fink to members of his New Rochelle, New York synagogue one hour after learning that he was infected with the Coronavirus, has been reposted with the permission of Rabbi Fink.

New Rochelle, New York — March 6, 2020
Israel News Agency / Jewish News Agency …

As so many of us are now contemplating going into a Shabbos of seclusion, I want to share a few thoughts with you.

We all woke up Tuesday morning prepared for our usual schedules of work or school or whatever we usually do. By late afternoon we learned that the state and the county health departments ordered a voluntary quarantine of those who were in a number of venues where the Coronavirus might have been. I said to myself, “but at all of those places we were performing mitzvot. To be davening in shul, attending a funeral, attending bar and bat mitzvah celebrations — all are good deeds, mitzvot!”

And yet, we were about to commence an unpleasant course of action: Isolation and quarantine are words that evoke fear. I must confess I was frightened that we might have an epidemic, a pandemic in our community. Our lay leadership and I met with the health officials and tried to explain that quarantine of almost an entire congregation was an overarching edict. They quickly disavowed us of any such thinking and announced the shutdown of the Shul before we could even announce it to our own members.

We were locked in our homes. What would we do? This Shabbos is Parshat Zachor!

We all know it is incumbent upon Jews to hear Zachor being read from the Torah. Additionally, a young man’s bar mitzvah was scheduled for Shabbos. He had studied his parsha so long and hard. What would be? And then, a young woman’s bat mitzvah was on Sunday. She would be so disappointed! Our friend and member lost her dear father and is sitting shiva. We who are in quarantine are not able to visit her in her time of need.

People’s lives are so disrupted. And certainly our minds never diverted from thinking about and praying for our good friend who lay in the hospital in such serious condition. We thought of his wife and the kids and what they were going through in comparison to what our situation was.

I told myself we would work things out. The people of New Rochelle are resourceful people. 

And we prayed. Everyone was emailing for our friend’s Hebrew name and wanted to know which Tehillim should be recited. People who were not in quarantine were calling to arrange to help people in need, particularly those who were elderly or sick. Neighboring communities volunteered to help. Our neighbors in Scarsdale and White Plains shopped and made deliveries to many. Seasons and Chickies tried to make ordering easy. UJA-Federation offered to send our members food from a canceled dinner. So many good people did so much good. And it continues.

Over the past day or two, other members of our congregation were tested and found to be positive for the Coronavirus. I as well found out an hour ago that I am infected with the virus. I can now reassure you that it is possible, Thank G-d, to get through this virus without a special vaccine. I have the virus and am doing reasonably well. But I must caution all of you who have had personal contact with me to seek counsel from your health practitioner as to how to proceed.

As a Shul we must worry about religion. We tried to address in writing what people could do for the observance of yahrzeit and recitation of kaddish. We worked out a plan to read Zachor on Purim. Daf Yomi was taught online via Zoom. We had two shiurim today given by me and by Rabbi Axelrod about Purim topics.

A crisis can bring out the best in people.
It is bringing out the best in us.

Admittedly, it is hard to comply with the burden the state has placed on us. But as we see, despite all these measures, the amount of people testing positive is increasing. We all have to be careful to comply. 

There are some positive elements that can be found in looking at our predicament. It slows down the pace of our frenetic lives. That can be positive. It can give us more time with our families. Maybe that book that we never got around to reading can be read now. Maybe we always wanted to find time to learn Torah. We now have that opportunity. I can’t remember the last time I davened without a minyan for Shacharis. But my davening this morning was much slower than usual.

This circumstance certainly gives us the opportunity to think. Our attention turns to mortality and our vulnerability. We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. Contemplation is good for the soul.

I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I discovered a fantastic insight into current events in this morning’s Daf Yomi.

The Talmud is in the midst of discussing various seminal events in the life of King David. It tells of an error he made. He decided to conduct a census of his kingdom. He wanted to have an accurate count of Israel’s population. According to the Torah, a census can only take place by counting tokens that represent a person but not by counting the people themselves. The Torah says: Count half-shekels so there “will not be a pestilence when you count them.” King David ignored this rule and counted people. The Navi tells us that a plague commenced as a result. The strange occurrence that guided that plague was that exactly 100 people died per day. The prophets and sages of that era ascertained from heaven that if they would institute a new mitzvah, the plague would end. They legislated a rabbinic mitzvah to recite 100 brachot each day. This is among the seven rabbinic mitzvot, along with lighting candles before Shabbat and the recitation of Hallel. But somehow this particular mitzvah has been lost to us during our bitter history.

Could it be only a coincidence that we learn this portion in the Talmud specifically today during this crisis of a possible pandemic? Perhaps. But perhaps we can take a lesson from it. Maybe we can accept upon ourselves to be more mindful and meticulous in reciting brachot. A bracha, a blessing, is our way of acknowledging the profound awareness that we have of G-d in our lives. A blessing can elevate the most mundane activity into something lofty and holy. It takes seconds but launches us into eternity.

We still have a way to go in handling our communal situation. Together we can persevere and triumph over these challenges. With our ever-abiding faith in G-d who is the healer, we pray that we, as well as our fellow Americans and the peoples of the world will conquer this disease במהרה בימנו אמן.

Wishing all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Reuven Fink
Temple Young Israel, New Rochelle, New York

Editor’s Note: The global number of Coronavirus cases has passed 100,000, with death tolls over 3,200. In the US, the number of cases has passed 260 with thousands under quarantine as public health labs anxiously await diagnostic kits from the federal government, which will allow for a fuller sense of the scale of the crisis.
As of Friday, New York State had 33 confirmed cases of Coronavirus.

Edited by Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency / Jewish News Agency

Twitter: twitter.com/JewishNewsUSA

Coronavirus Threatens Jewish Communities

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency / Jewish News Agency

New York — March 4, 2020 … Just a few weeks ago Jewish synagogues throughout the United States were implementing security plans to prevent attacks by Neo-Nazis and Jihadists. Today the most lethal threat to Jewish communities transcends anti-semitic graffiti. It overshadows the many missiles and rockets of Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

That threat is something called the Coronavirus.

The coronavirus was recently detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and is rapidly causing a global outbreak of lethal respiratory disease. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization named the disease coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated “COVID‑19”).

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoVSARS-CoV, and now with this new virus (named SARS-CoV-2).

There are more than 100,000 cases around the world – the overwhelming majority in China – but as deaths are reported in Italy, Iran and the United States, authorities are considering new quarantine zones and travel restrictions.

Coronavirus does not discriminate. Actually it does. If you are a baby or young child, chances of acquiring and dying from this new disease is very low. But if you are over 30, the disease can and will take you down.

As the Coronavirus infests the United States, hitting several states, prompting California to declare a state of emergency, the residents of Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Washington state now have more than 160 cases confirmed and 13 dead. 

One location is particularly troubling. It’s a cozy northern suburb of New York City called New Rochelle.

New Rochelle is a middle upper class town embracing many people of various ethic origins. But one group, the close-knit Orthodox Jewish community is now being targeted by Coronavirus like a heat seeking missile.

Yesterday, Temple Young Israel in New Rochelle was ordered to close it’s doors as a member of that synagogue is now in critical condition with all his family infected. That member works as an attorney in New York City.

The 50-year-old New Rochelle man’s family includes a wife and four children, two of whom are in Israel. One of the children, a daughter, attends SAR Academy in Riverdale. It closed for the day. One son is in college, Yeshiva University, which has also closed. The man’s family is under self-quarantine in their home.

Two other private schools – Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck and Westchester Torah Academy in White Plains – also closed for the day.

See: https://twitter.com/JewishNewsUSA/status/1235280502585729024

In the last few hours it has been disclosed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that the man who drove the first infected person to hospital, has also been infected by the virus and his entire family has tested positive.

The New Rochelle lawyer may have spread the virus already to hundreds of people at Shabbat services, a bat mitzvah and a funeral he attended last week at his synagogue, Young Israel of New Rochelle.

Cuomo expects thousands of cases to manifest in the coming weeks.

The second family, also under quarantine at home, sends their children — two sons and one daughter – to Westchester Torah Academy, a co-ed Modern Orthodox Yeshiva in White Plains, New York. The school was one of three Jewish schools in the New York area, including Westchester Day School and SAR Academy, that closed on Tuesday amid concerns of spread from the family of the New Rochelle lawyer. 

Health officials ordered Young Israel of New Rochelle, the family’s synagogue, to suspend activities. The officials mandated a two-week quarantine for anyone who attended a funeral at the synagogue on Feb. 22 or a bat mitzvah on Feb. 23. About 600 people are affected.

“It’s an old-world Jewish community, because everyone is so into everyone’s life,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of the Larchmont Temple, a synagogue in a nearby town. “There’s a real sense of mutual support and mutual care. There’s a real sense of connectedness that is an extension of their Judaism.”

Sirkman’s synagogue sent a letter this week urging its 800-family congregation to take immediate precautions, including “rubbing elbows instead of shaking hands, to minimize the transmission of germs.”

“If we hug or hold hands or kiss a little less,” the letter said, “it does not mean we don’t care. On the contrary, with sincerity of heart, it means we truly do!”

Immediate suggestions to Jewish communities:

1. Send out an email to all synagogue members stating that if they feel ill, are coughing or sneezing, to report their symptoms to a doctor, stay home and view services via a Web broadcast.

2. Install liquid disinfectant stations at the entrance of the synagogue, in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, in every classroom. Use Purell professional surface disinfectant spray before and after meetings.

3. The use of masks should only be used for those who are ill – but then again – they should not be attending Temple services.

4. Handshaking must stop. The Israel Ministry of Health is in communication and in line with all of the above emergency CDC / WHO recommendations.

5. Wash your hands as often as possible as the virus can live on some surfaces for a few hours. Do not touch your face as the points of transmission are your nose, mouth and eyes.

6. Stop kissing the Torah and or garments used to touch the Torah. Reflecting upon the verses written in the scroll will suffice.

Today, the Conference of European Rabbis published a list of recommendations — including avoiding kissing mezuzahs, Torah scrolls and other people – to worshippers on how to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The Jewish world has a choice. Do nothing and say it will not happen here.
Or eventually be ordered by the Town and or state health departments to close their synagogues.

We must take immediate actions to prove to the public that we care about our synagogue members and the general community.

Action on the above does not require a vote by the Temple Board and a meeting next month.

We need to alert all synagogue members and install disinfectant stations before Shabbat services.

As it took some time for many to accept police and uniformed security guards at the entrances of our synagogues with open arms – we must now act without panic – to keep our synagogues safe and secure from a lethal virus which as of last report today has mutated into something much more aggressive.

Yes, we will welcome the stranger. But not one who is sneezing or coughing.

We suggest that everyone checks out https://twitter.com/CDCgov a few times a day.

“Namaste” may just save hundreds of lives.

We may want to take the advice of the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu, at a press conference in Jerusalem after a meeting to review Israel’s fight to stop the spread of coronavirus, said that several measures will be announced to prevent the spread of the disease.

Instead of the normal handshake, Netanyahu suggests his countrymen to opt for “Namaste” to greet each other. “Namaste” is the customary means to greet each other in India with a smile and folded hands.

“Just avoid shaking hands as I do. You can try to implement the Indian system of Namaste or say another word like shalom, but find a way, any way of not shaking hands.”

Some good news!

Israeli scientists have announced that a new vaccine they developed for a deadly virus affecting poultry could be adapted for human use against the coronavirus.

Scientists at the Migal Research Institute in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona said last Thursday that after four years of multi-disciplinary research, they developed a vaccine against IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), an avian coronavirus that affects the respiratory tract, gut, kidney and reproductive systems of domestic fowl. The disease causes “remarkable economic losses to the poultry industry by inducing respiratory and reproductive signs, decreased productive performances and increased mortality,” according to a 2019 veterinary study. The effectiveness of the new vaccine has been proven in pre-clinical veterinary trials.

While working on the avian vaccine, the Israeli scientists said they identified a possible COVID-19 vaccine candidate as a by-product of the IBV vaccine and have made the “required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of coronavirus.”

The scientists said they are now working toward safety approvals that will allow for in-vivo testing and – in the near future, possibly three weeks – the production of a vaccine.