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NYC may close churches, synagogues that don’t comply with coronavirus orders, de Blasio warns – Fox News

Posted By on March 30, 2020

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasiowarned Friday that the city could shut down certain places of worship if people continued to violate the state's stay-at-home mandates and continue congregating for religious servicesthere.

"A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagoguesare unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though its so widespread," de Blasio, a Democrat, said at a news conference on thecoronavirusoutbreak.

City officials have continued to work rigorously to control the spread of COVID-19 as cases climbed over 1,000 on Sunday despite statewide closures of schools and non-essential businesses.


"I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services," he added.

The warnings came just weeks before Easter, on April 12.


De Blasio promised to"take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently," if worshippers did not comply.

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NYC may close churches, synagogues that don't comply with coronavirus orders, de Blasio warns - Fox News

Worship In The Time Of Coronavirus: How My Synagogue Is Coping With Social Distancing –

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Joel Sisenwine knew he wanted to be a rabbi from a young age. He never imagined it would also lead him to a career on the big screen. But that is where he found himself two Fridays ago as he and Cantor Jodi Sufrin led Shabbat services while standing in an empty sanctuary at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. In these early days of social distancing, Rabbi Sisenwine invited the congregation to join in from home via the live stream. I know this because I am a member of Temple Beth Elohim and have been a part of this new form of communal prayer.

I asked Rabbi Sisenwine if TBE had ever suspended Shabbat services before.

In all of my years, there was only one service that we missed, said Sisenwine. And that was following the Boston Marathon bombing because of the Shelter in Place order.

Communities everywhere are searching for ways to connect during the coronavirus pandemic. Particularly challenged are houses of worship where weekly communal gathering for prayer is fundamental to their relevance. Though Temple Beth Elohim began by using their live stream technology for the weekly prayer ritual, Rabbi Sisenwine went into the second week looking for something more.

For this past Fridays Shabbat services, all five prayer leaders led their congregation from a completely new platform. Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder surrounded by several hundred members, the three rabbis and two cantors each sat alone inside a small two-dimensional box arrayed across the top of a computer screen powered by Zoom, the videoconferencing app that many of us know from our workplaces.

This is how my temple is handling worship in the time of COVID-19.

Rabbi Sisenwines decision to use Zoom for the second week of Shabbat was in response to what he began to hear. He noticed that peoples anxiety shifted from concerns about getting sick and facing financial uncertainty to a deeper fear of social distancing. This was familiar territory.

These are questions that religion has always dealt with, said Sisenwine. How do I live my life and live it meaningfully, sharing it with others. And how do I live a life where I can be surrounded by community, friends, people who care about me...and God.

To Sisenwine and the other clergy, the live stream of the first week solely provided a passive, one-way version of rituals that derive their true power through relationship. Rabbi Sisenwine hoped that by switching to Zoom where congregants can see each other fears of social isolation would be lessened.

In addition to making people nervous, social distancing directly conflicts with Halacha or Jewish Law. There are a set of Jewish prayers that may only be recited in the presence of a minyan or group of ten. One is the Kaddish or Mourners prayer.

TBE member Glenda Ganems mother passed away in late January. As a daughter, Ganem recites the Kaddish every week for eleven months. She felt lost upon learning of the first weeks live stream Shabbat services.

I sent a message right away to our rabbi asking, how do you say Kaddish without a community? said Ganem. And he responded, In a pandemic, we say Kaddish wherever we are.

And she did. In her car, on the side of the highway watching a glorious sunset and feeling her mothers presence. During this past weeks Zoom Shabbat service, Ganem was comforted by the images of the clergy and her many friends and Beth Elohim community.

In some ways, the coronavirus pandemic demands the same as the Kaddish. With the individual loss of freedom of movement and schedules, the potential loss of salaries and safety and health, and with societal connectivity abruptly interrupted, we need a reminder that we are connected by others to a community.

Rachel Rock is a Boston University journalism student and a former WGBH News intern.

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Worship In The Time Of Coronavirus: How My Synagogue Is Coping With Social Distancing -

South Jersey synagogues and churches look to be closed for Passover and Easter – Press of Atlantic City

Posted By on March 30, 2020

The doors to religious institutions across New Jersey look like they will stay locked through one of the holiest times of year, as Gov. Phil Murphys stay-at-home order March 21 creates empty synagogues and churches for the first time in the lives of South Jersey rabbis, priests and other clergy.

Easter Sunday this year is April 12. Passover begins at sundown April 8 and ends April 16.

The Jewish holiday is based around the retelling of the biblical story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The seder is the ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover.

Passover is traditionally celebrated with family, friends and relatives in the home, with fellow believers at the synagogue, or both.

Rabbi Aaron Krauss of Beth El Synagogue of Margate said he will have his Passover seder in April alone with his wife. He has not done it that way in a long time.

It will be very difficult. We do what we have to do under difficult conditions, Krauss said.

In an effort to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Jewish people can partake in Passover services by using the Zoom group video calling mobile app, as long as the phone and the app are turned on before Passover officially starts, Krauss said.

The conservative and orthodox branches of Judaism prohibit working and the turning on of electricity and electronics between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday.

The closest thing Krauss has ever experienced to the current situation is when he was a navy chaplain to all faiths on the island of Okinawa in Japan. There was an outbreak of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, which is often due to infection.

What is difficult about the current pandemic is that people need spiritual and psychological resources to cope, but the need to not spread the virus keeps people separate, Krauss said.

For many, inner strength is required. Families need to draw together, overcoming pettiness, Krauss said.

Rabbi Ron Isaacs, part-time rabbi of Congregation Beth Judah in Wildwood, the only synagogue in Cape May County, said Passover will be sad this year because everybody is staying put.

Some older people dont have the capability to use the Zoom app, so Isaacs knows it is not a solution for everyone.

Isaacs will be leading virtual services from his home in Bridgewater, Somerset County, at 7 p.m. every Friday next month through Zoom, including April 17. This service includes Yizkor, a traditional mourning service recited by those who have lost a parent or a close loved one.

It will be me, my wife and the dog, said Isaacs, who added large parts of Passover take place at home because a meal is involved. Im 72 years old. I have never done Passover with three people in my whole life.

ATLANTIC CITY An effort to restore the interior of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atl

One of the principal holidays, or feasts, of Christianity, Easter celebrates Jesus rising from the dead three days after his crucifixion.

The Camden Diocese has come up with an alternative for followers who will be prohibited from entering churches during Holy Week.

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan will celebrate the Mass for Palm Sunday without a congregation at 10:30 a.m. April 5 with palms blessed and broadcast via live-stream on the diocesan website/YouTube/Facebook.

Sullivan also will do live-streams at 7 p.m. Holy Thursday, April 9; 3 p.m. Good Friday, April 10; 7 p.m. for the Easter Vigil, April 11; and 10:30 a.m. Easter Sunday, April 12.

Pastor John J. Vignone of the Church of St. Katharine Drexel in Egg Harbor Township said he plans to record an Easter Sunday Mass and have it up on his churchs website for parishioners who cannot watch the live-stream.

The traditional, established religions, such as Catholicism, in general, do not make as much use of social media, streaming and live interaction through the internet as the newer religions, said Pastor Jon Thomas of the Roman Catholic Parish of Saint Monica in Atlantic City.

But the closing of the churches has led some priests to make more use of social media to keep in touch with followers.

Thomas has been posting twice a week on the parishs Facebook page, He also started recording Sunday Mass and having it air at 7 a.m. Sundays on radio station WOND-AM 1400 and has been mailing reading materials to parishioners who ask.

Of course, it will be bizarre and unusual for us, said Thomas about the upcoming Easter. It will be very unusual for us (reverends) to not be in front of a congregation on Easter Sunday. Its unfathomable.

Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

A traditional procession begins the Mass on Wednesday at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City.

Lucrecia Rufino of AC (left) hands out programs to Beth Gormley-Johnson of the Gormley Funeral Home of Atlantic City. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Fr. Jon Thomas talks to John Gormley and Beth Gormley-Johnson of the Gormley Funeral Home of Atlantic City before the mass. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Special programs are passed out for the mass. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Fr. Jon Thomas presides over the mass. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Phyllis Juliano of Margate sings hymns during the mass. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Fr. Jon Thomas presides over the mass. Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

Wednesday February 22 2017 The Parish of Saint Monica hosts a Mass for the Business Community at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto)

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South Jersey synagogues and churches look to be closed for Passover and Easter - Press of Atlantic City

Inside Israel’s ultra-Orthodox coronavirus hot spots where even the mayor is sick – Haaretz

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Outside one of the citys hundreds of synagogues, the members were just beginning to arrive for minhah (afternoon prayers) on Shabbat afternoon. Despite the orders of both the government and the Chief Rabbinate, the place was still open. Bnei Braks rabbis follow their own rules.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

Still, the gabbaim (officials) who run the place were half-confirming to the new social distancing regulations. They had prepared a pile of siddurim (prayer books) in the porch and dragged out chairs and stenders (small mobile lecterns for religious books), and the prayer was about to begin in leaf-dappled sunlight.

Were all abiding by the regulations here, sighed one of the regulars. We started praying outside already last night. But the regulations had been in force for a week and a half. What took them so long? When people began to die, we began to pay attention, he answered.

He wouldnt specify whether he meant the 12 Israelis who had already died from coronavirus-related causes, or the growing number of prominent members of the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) communities in the United States and Britain whose names and pictures had been emblazoned on the front pages of Fridays Haredi newspapers.

You dont notice initially that youve left the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan and entered Bnei Brak. There is no discernible border between the two municipalities, and the apartment blocks look very similar at first sight. If you are driving and its Shabbat, however, as you turn off Ramat Gans Haroe Street and make your way up Jerusalem Street, the fact you are entering Israels largest ultra-Orthodox city will immediately be brought home to you by the metal barrier that prevents vehicles entering from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday.

The other thing you wont immediately notice is that you are entering one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in Israel.

Bnei Brak, with some 200,000 residents, is the ninth largest city in Israel. But as of this weekend, it had the second-largest number of coronavirus carriers around 300. Thats 50 percent more than neighboring Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which has over twice the population. And the rate of infection is much higher as well. In just three days last week, the number of confirmed cases in Bnei Brak multiplied more than eightfold, while in neighboring Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv it just doubled.

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As you enter Bnei Brak, you notice one of the reasons why the coronavirus has spread so quickly. The mobile phone stores proudly proclaim on their storefronts that they only sell devices with a kashrut stamp (just like the one more normally found on food). These stamps, authorized by the Rabbis Council for Media Issues, denote that the phones cannot be used for going online and block most messaging apps. In recent days, anyone with one of these phones who tested positive for COVID-19 would not have received the notification because the messages were blocked by their phones.

But a lack of communications was not the sole reason the ultra-Orthodox community was so slow to get the coronavirus message.

Further up Jerusalem Road is Yeshivat Tiferet Zion, a Torah academy for teenage boys, headed by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. Two weeks earlier, as the government announced that all schools and universities were to be closed immediately, the 92-year-old rabbi some say at the behest of his powerful grandson, Yanky Kaniesky had publicly announced that the yeshivas and religious schools for all ages were to remain open as normal, since Torah magna umatzla (Torah protects and saves).

A lot has happened since then, however, and early last week Kanievsky finally relented and ordered the religious educational establishments be closed. But in Bnei Brak and many other Haredi communities, the yeshiva buildings double as synagogues: Tiferet Zions students had been sent home, but the study hall-synagogue inside was still open on Shabbat.

The management had posted a sign on the door asking people not to pray inside, and instead suggested times and locations in nearby side streets for holding smaller, minyan-sized gatherings (the minimal quorum for prayer is 10 males aged 13 and above). But still people were going in and out. One of the yeshivas teachers said, Were abiding by the rules. Only leaving the house to pray in small groups.

Why had Rabbi Kanievsky ruled otherwise two weeks earlier? The teacher shrugged and smiled. Some questions arent asked in Bnei Brak. A day later, on Sunday afternoon, Kanievsky finally issued a new order, this time telling people to pray on their own and not in a minyan.

Regulars only

For anyone who has ever walked through Bnei Brak on Shabbat, on its streets devoid of moving cars, the sight of the main thoroughfare Rabbi Akiva Street would have been a revelation this particular Shabbat. It wasnt empty by any means, but it was nothing like the normally packed boulevard (so packed that rabbis patrol to try to keep groups of young men and women from fraternizing). Even so, there were still many dozens of people walking around, children scampering and young men standing in groups.

Were looking for a minyan, was the excuse most of them made when asked what they were doing outside. The police just came driving through and said nothing, responded one.

The few playgrounds in this cramped city were still open, though only a small number of families were inside them. Outside one, an anonymous person had put up a little sign about hygiene, together with a box of surgical gloves and a canister of alcogel. Both were empty.

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein, who does not do anything without the rabbis say-so, is himself in home quarantine with the coronavirus. On Friday, he issued a message to his residents that this is a moment when you have to stop and shout and warn.

Before Shabbat began, cars with loudspeakers had gone out into the streets, blaring instructions for residents to stay at home. But many in the city are grumbling that, only 10 days earlier, Rubinstein allowed a mass-wedding party of a relative of his to proceed on the streets. Hes woken up now that hes got it, says one local.

The municipality has put up rather unobtrusive signs with advice on hygiene and an order preventing gatherings of more than 10 people in one space, but left it to the rabbis to rule on synagogues. Some rabbis have put out their own notices, calling to close the shuls and study halls, and pray outside, spaced out in small groups, But in Bnei Brak, there are as many rabbinical authorities as there are synagogues.

In a Hasidic part of the city, where every other rabbinical court has its own establishment, some are keeping to the rules. But others are making up their own. On the doors of the Biala Hasidim building, there are orders to split the prayers and Torah studies into three separate groups; not to kiss the Torah scrolls and mezuzahs; and for sick people and those over 70 to stay at home. A second notice beseeches the members not to gather in groups of more than 10, as they have already been fined by the Health Ministry for contravening the ruling. Another, smaller Hasidic sect made do with just putting up a notice stating: This space is meant only for the regulars.

Actually locking the doors of a synagogue was too much for most places. A few just put a symbolic stender in the entrance.

A neighboring establishment printed a notice saying in Hebrew that By order of the Health Ministry, the study hall is closed... This was followed by three lines in Yiddish saying according to the government. The study hall is open, come in to learn and pray.

In other words, for those who obey the Hebrew-speaking secular government were closed. But if you live in the alternate Yiddish-speaking ultra-Orthodox autonomy, things are different.

Blaming women

Perhaps the most crucial factor in the virus spread beyond the lack of communications with the outside world and the rabbis suspicion of instructions from the government (despite the fact that the health minister, Yaakov Litzman, is himself ultra-Orthodox) is Bnei Braks drastic overcrowding. Of Israels 77 cities, it is by far the most cramped, with an average of 26,368 residents per square kilometer. It is more than three times as crowded as nearby Tel Aviv, a city not exactly known for its spaciousness, and regularly features in lists of the worlds 10 most densely populated cities.

Bnei Brak is a city of tiny apartments in warren-like tenement blocks, each home housing families of often 10 or more. For the men and most of the children, life is outside on the street and home is the synagogue or yeshiva especially at this time of year, when the women are busy cleaning every microscopic crumb of hametz from their homes and the men traditionally take the children out to playgrounds. With Passover less than two weeks away, keeping a Haredi family cooped up at home is as unthinkable as praying on your own.

The women, of course, were the first to lose their own spaces in Bnei Brak when the coronavirus crisis escalated. In all synagogues, the womens galleries were reserved for the men, who needed to spread out. Here and there, though, a few women had their own spiritual benefit: On Shadal Street, chairs and stenders were spread out on Shabbat afternoon so a neighborhood rabbi could give his weekly lesson on the Zohar (a kabbalistic text). As he spoke, behind a parked car and hidden from his gaze, two women stood in rapt attention. A rare opportunity for them to listen in.

In other parts of the Haredi autonomy, women were actually being blamed for the coronavirus. On the walls in the hard-core Haredi neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Beit Yisrael, someone had found time to put up a poster blaming the plague on lack of modesty, and exhorting Women and Girls! Repent! Observe tznius [modesty] according to all the rules of halakha! referring to Jewish religious law.

If anything, this part of Jerusalem is even more crowded than Bnei Brak and more resolute to keep out the outside world. In the Mea Shearim shtiblach (a synagogue with multiple prayer spaces in use simultaneously by separate minyans), no one is even trying to create a semblance of social distancing. As morning prayers proceed, all the rooms are packed with swaying men and children of all ages.

No one here will answer a journalists questions, but the notices on the door offer a full explanation. One is a quote from the writings of the Chatam Sofer, one of the most important rabbis of Central Europe in the early 19th century. It is the blessed Gods will that in time of plague, the gathering of students for learning Torah must not cease and it will be the days leading to the coming of the Messiah.

Another notice has a more contemporary message: Communists! [This is apparently a reference to the Israeli government.] You didnt close the camps of your impure army. You dont care for the health of your soldiers, but you care for the health of Haredi Jewry?

This is not just a way of life. It is the ideological battle of a community that will not have the government and its experts tell it how to fight a plague.

Police who tried to make their way into Mea Shearim last week to close down synagogues and yeshivas were rebuffed by angry crowds. This week, the police instead set up roadblocks around Jerusalems ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, to enforce the orders prohibiting unnecessary movement. But even if this can somehow prevent further infection spreading, once there are serious cases of sickness, the stricken will be allowed out for medical treatment.

As scarce ventilators and intensive care unit beds which will be shared by secular and ultra-Orthodox patients alike are being prepared for the expected surge of coronavirus cases, the anger across Israel is mounting at the community that insists on making its own rules.

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Inside Israel's ultra-Orthodox coronavirus hot spots where even the mayor is sick - Haaretz

Rabbi Mordechai Gurary, 84, Congregational Leader and Torah Scholar – His classes in Talmud and Chassidic philosophy were attended by all ages -…

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Rabbi Mordechai Gurary, a prominent Torah scholar who served as the rabbi of the Chevra Shas synagogue in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., for many decades, passed away on March 28 after being infected with the coronavirus. He was 84 years old.

Gurary was born in Russia. His father, Mordechai, passed away before he was born, and he was named after him.

His parents had a close relationship with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and Chana Schneerson, the parents of the RebbeRabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. In memoirs written by Rebbetzin Chana, she describes how her husband brought Gurarys father closer to Judaism, followed by his tragic passing and the powerful eulogy that her husband delivered at his funeral.

Sometimes, he was sent into town on official errands to purchase supplies for the kolkhoz office, wrote Rebbetzin Chana. To make some spare cash, his fellow students who accompanied him would bring along some butter and other farm products to sell in town. Mitya, however, sought out Jews living there and inquired as to their religious needs. His briefcase was full of mezuzot, tzitzit, siddurim and alef-bet cards, which he secretly distributed in accordance with the Ravs directives.

The Rebbe himself was also well-acquainted with the Gurarys as a young scholar, as evidenced by the fact that in correspondence with Rabbi Yosef Rosen, famously known as the Rogatchover Gaon, he signed Gurary Sr.s name, during years when the Schneerson name needed to be hidden from censors.

After escaping Russia, Gurary studied at the Chabad Yeshiva in Brunoy, France, under the tutelage of the Chassidic mentor Rabbi Nissan Neminov, who was renowned for his piety and abstinence. The Rebbe expressed unique interest in the young boy, sending a letter to Rabbi Nemeinov asking him to keep a special eye on him. The Rebbe also requested that Gurary send him a picture of himself.

Rabbi Gurary during his years as rabbi of Chevra Shas synagogue.

In 1958, Gurary arrived in New York for the holidays of the month of Tishrei, where he met the Rebbe for the first time. He often recounted his memories from the Simchat Torah holiday that year, when, following the Hakafot, the Rebbe returned in the early morning hours to the synagogue to teach a haunting Chassidic melody known as Shamil.

After marrying his cousin, Lea (Liza) Bronstein, and settling in Crown Heights, Gurary began giving classes in the Chevra Shas synagogue; after a few years, he was appointed as the rabbi of the synagogue. The synagogue, originally established as a center for Lithuanian Jews, quickly attracted many of the famed personalities of Crown Heights, including the communities rabbis and Chassidic mentors.

During the decades that Gurary headed the synagogue, he gained a reputation for being a renowned Torah scholar and a sought-after speaker. His classes in Talmud and Chassidic philosophy were attended by 90-year-olds next to young men, and he was frequently invited to speak and lead Chassidic gatherings in synagogues around the community and beyond.

Gurary also had an ear for music and would lead his congregation in prayer during Selichot and the High Holiday prayers, intertwining heartwarming melodies with the stirring tunes of the prayers.

He always had a smile on his face said Rabbi Dovid Meir Drukman, Gurarys brother-in-law. He constantly had guests in his house and greeted everyone with a kind word. He followed in the ways of Aharon the High Priest, always pursuing peace.

His family reported that he had been infected with COVID-19, the disease associated with the virus, only a few days before his passing and was healthy before then. In a video released a little more than a week before his passing, Gurary addressed his congregants and encouraged them to have faith in Gd even in these trying times.

Gurary with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Dovid Meir Drukman.

I cant believe that I will no longer be able to see my dear brother-in-law, said Drukman. It was only recently that we made plans for him to spend Passover at our home in Kiryat Motzkin in Israel. He left me a warm voice note, apologizing for not being able to come, and wishing me and my family health, and hoping to visit at a future opportunity.

He passed away on Shabbat morning, the third day of Nissan 5780.

He was predeceased by his wife.

Gurary is survived by their children: Chanie Blizinsky and Shaina Zalmanov, both of Brooklyn, N.Y.; in addition to grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Rabbi Mordechai Gurary, 84, Congregational Leader and Torah Scholar - His classes in Talmud and Chassidic philosophy were attended by all ages -...

Gantz in, his political partners out: This is what Netanyahu’s new government would look like – Haaretz

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi appear to be heading into a unity government, which will enable Benjamin Netanyahu to lead his fifth term as prime minister for the next year and a half.

Under the apparent agreement between Kahol Lavan and Likud, Ashkenazi will be defense minister, while Gantzs role remains unclear. Kahol Lavan will break up, with Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon taking their seats in the opposition.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 71: A tale of two crises: Coronavirus vs. Constitution

Last week Gantz was undecided on whether to enter a Netanyahu-led government, and at a certain point even leaned toward supporting an emergency government from the outside. Ultimately hes heading inside.

The two sides havent agreed on all the issues yet, but Gantz still has two weeks to try to assemble a government. If Netanyahu is to become prime minister, Gantz must return the mandate to the president, who must then task Netanyahu with forming a government.

Under the current agreement, Gantz would become prime minister in a year and a half. Gabi Ashkenazi, also a former IDF chief-of-staff will take over the Defense Ministry. Its not clear whether Gantz will serve as foreign minister or deputy prime minister until the time comes to swap with Netanyahu. The date of the swap is expected to be fixed by legislation ahead of swearing in the new government.

Kahol Lavans Chili Tropper will be justice minister, with both sides agreeing to maintain the status quo both in the justice system and on religion and state issues. Likud negotiators had wanted Ruth Gavison for the post, but this was rejected.

Likud will keep the Public Security Ministry and Miri Regev has been promised to head it. Ultra-Orthodox party leader Yaakov Litzman will retain the Health Ministry. The remaining portfolios are yet to be allocated.

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Although Gantzs ticket has fewer MKs than the right wing bloc, it was agreed Kahol Lavan would have the same number of portfolios as the right wing bloc, which will make almost every member of Hosen LYisrael, Gantz's faction within Kahol Lavan, a minister.

Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Moshe Yaalon of Telem, the other two factions in the alliance, will not be joining the government. Lapid will serve as opposition chairman. Meanwhile, its not clear whether the four members of Yaalons Telem faction will remain with him in the opposition or join the government.

Its also unclear where Labor is heading. If current leader Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli enter the government, senior Labor MKMerav Michaeli is likely to remain with Meretz in opposition.

In any case, this government will have at least 73 Knesset members in the coalition, so Peretz and Shmulis membership wont make much of a difference.

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Gantz in, his political partners out: This is what Netanyahu's new government would look like - Haaretz

Awaiting Ancient Hatreds, Anticipating New Normals | Rozita Pnini – The Times of Israel

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Like a mutating virus, anti-Semitism continues to raise its ugly head in the United States.

Thisvirulent form of prejudice has infected the world for many centuries, culminating in the worst genocide in human history. Today, this virus is resurgent, and responsible governments should seek to stamp it out just as they would in response to a viral pandemic because innocent people die in both cases.

The rise of anti-Semitism in the U.S. exposes the distressing fact that the American Jewish community lacks both a unified leadership and a singular voice with which it can respond appropriately.

There are some who assign responsibility for the rise of this hatred to President Trump. Some within the Jewish community have even criticized his December, 2019 executive order against anti-Semitism on college campuses. Criticism of such an order is indicative of the depth of division that exists within the Jewish community. Where we need unity, we find only division.

The American Jewish community has always suffered from a lack of a national leadership. In New York alone, the Ashkenazi, Syrian, Persian and Israeli-American communities have their own leaders, and they are far from being truly unified.

The fact is that anti-Semitism in America cannot be blamed on any one administration. Anti-Jewish prejudice has existed for millennia and the rise of that hatred runs parallel to the broader divisions in American society.

At the organizational level, multiple groups work separately on their own initiatives to fight anti-Semitism, but still no united front has emerged.

Thats why I believe the time has come for changes at the grassroots level. Members of the Jewish community should pressure their leaders to come together and form one, clear, united voice. Nobody should assume that organizational leaders have the ability to take matters in hand. The evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

The Me Too movement became hugely effective when celebrities used their voice to stand together and say that men who engage in sexual aggression must face punishment. Jews in America also need a single, clear voice in these times.

Unfortunately, the lack of cohesion among community organizations has exhausted and alienated many grassroots, Jewish activists, but if the right leadership were to emerge, those activists would return to the battle for the Jewish future.

To a degree, the polarization of Israeli society further complicates the quest for Jewish unity in the United States. After three rounds of elections that spanned an entire year, there remains no clear Israeli figurehead to whom the diaspora can look for a policy to combat anti-Semitism.

American Jewry lacks an Israeli individual, platform or policy with whom they can lock arms and join forces. Such things are needed, not because American Jewry requires the prompting of Israelis, but because anti-Semitism is a global issue, affecting many, including American Jewry, and much of the anti-Semitism we face centers around the subject of Israel.

Although there have been many attempts to build a single, national leadership that can represent Jews to local and federal governments, none have proven successful thus far.

Relying upon local government to send police officers to guard Jewish sites is not a sufficient response in light of the scope of the threat. Closing our eyes and hoping that others will solve the problem for us is not a working strategy.


One of the first steps that a unified leadership must take is to raise the necessary funds to place private armed security guards at every synagogue, Jewish community center, and Kosher restaurant in America. Doing so would decrease the vulnerability of such potential targets considerably. The unarmed guards currently deployed around Jewish facilities will prove ineffective in the face of armed attackers.

In addition, Jewish leaders need to be able to call out anti-Semitism wherever it appears, whether it masquerades as mere anti-Zionism, or it presents itself in the actions of white supremacists.

Attempting to censor this discussion because of fears of politicization is part of the problematic unwillingness to deal with the full scale of anti-Semitism.

The British Jewish community, and communities throughout Europe, though much smaller that their American counterpart, benefit from having a unified leadership that is able to speak with a common voice against anti-Jewish racism. American Jewry can learn from such examples. While in Europe, they possess the means of recognizing anti-semitism and the need for solidarity, they lack the means to be truly impactful at the governmental level. In America, regretfully, we have the means to be impactful, but we are often too slow to recognize the threat and too unwilling to act as one.

Though the coronavirus dominates the lives of all of us at this time; this pandemic will pass, and the ancient hatreds that once were, will rise anew. Nobody should underestimate what can transpire for the Jewish people in a country and a world that may well find itself in the grip of a sustained, severe economic downturn and social unrest; two hallmarks of what this pandemic may leave in its wake.

The situation is serious, and it requires serious community action. Continuing to act as we have done until now is no longer an option.

Though many new normals may come to pass post COVID-19, a world without anti-Semitism will not be one of them.

Rozita Pnini was born in Iran and moved to Israel with her parents and siblings as a young child. She served in the Nahal brigade of the IDF during the Lebanon War as part of her mandatory military service.Following a successful career in the private sector in the United States, Ms. Pnini became an active board member of Our Soldiers Speak and now serves as the President of that organization. She regularly dispatches senior ranked, active officers of the IDF and the Israel National Police to brief elite graduate campuses throughout the english speaking world and convenes Israel policy presentations for elected officials in the US and the United Kingdom. She is the proud mother of three daughters.

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Awaiting Ancient Hatreds, Anticipating New Normals | Rozita Pnini - The Times of Israel

Netanyahu’s office denies reports he is to enter isolation for one week – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff will temporarily isolate themselves until the end of an epidemiological study that is expected to reveal that he was not exposed to the coronavirus, his office said.But Netanyahu's office continued to deny reports on Monday that a decision had been made to quarantine him for a week after his parliamentary adviser, Rivka Paluch, was diagnosed with the virus.His office said that Health Ministry professionals were conducting a thorough study to determine what needs to be done next.The first indications of the study indicate that there is no need for Netanyahu to enter quarantine, because he did not meet with Paluch and did not come into close contact with her. They were not in the same room over the past two weeks.Netanyahu, in co-ordination with his personal doctor, has been maintaining health restrictions strictly and is conducting most of his work from his home and most of his consultations by video.Netanyahu intends to be tested for the virus again on Monday after taking it multiple times before.Channel 12 reported on Monday morning that the prime minister will enter isolation for a week after Paluch tested positive for the disease.Paluch told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night that reports Netanyahu would have to be quarantined were incorrect.Paluch said that while she did go to the Knesset on Thursday to prepare the prime minister for the vote for Knesset speaker, she did not have any real contact with Netanyahu.If Netanyahu tested positive, he and his entire staff would have to be quarantined, as would Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, who spent eight hours with him overnight on Saturday night negotiating entering his government.But Paluch said it was very unlikely that she had passed the virus on to her boss. Paluch's husband tested positive for the coronavirus before she did. She said he got it after visiting Ichilov Hospital. She said that both she and her husband felt well and had minimal symptoms.Speaking before she got the positive test, Paluch said she did not think she would test positive.Paluch is one of Netanyahu's few female advisers. While most of the closest advisers to Netanyahu are in their 20s, she is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) grandmother with many grandchildren. She is considered especially close to his wife, Sara.A veteran of the Israeli political scene, Paluch once organized a visit of MKs and reporters to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. She ensured that a lunch at the Mukata presidential compound would be strictly kosher.British prime minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the virus and is quarantined. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau said Saturday that she has recovered from being ill from COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus. She and her husband had been self-quarantined.Alex Winston contributed to this report

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Netanyahu's office denies reports he is to enter isolation for one week - The Jerusalem Post

Table Manners The Cookbook review: ‘What it lacks in cheffy precision, it makes up for in damned good food’ –

Posted By on March 30, 2020

If you havent heard of Table Manners, what planet have you been living on? Three years ago, the singer Jessie Ware launched a podcast with her mum, Lennie. Since then, it has been downloaded 80million times, becoming a global phenomenon in the process.

The format is a winner: mother and daughter (mostly mother) cook up a Friday night dinner for a famous guest Ed Sheeran, Sadiq Khan, Yotam Ottolenghi bickerand drink (mostly daughter) and create a convivial atmosphere listeners wish they could take part in. In the lockdown, they are now serving virtual dinners.

Table Manners: The Cookbook (Ebury, 22) is filled with favourites from the show, such as Lady Gagas gefilte fish. The book has plenty of stories to appeal to its core audience, but sufficient variety and enticing recipes for those who havent heard the podcast.

Neither Ware is a professional cook or chef, which places this in the realm of family cookbook. Often, these can be lovely reads, if a little light on culinary interest. Not here. There are six main sections, covering easy meals, Jewish classics, summer holiday favourites (mostly reflecting their love of Greece), Chrismukkah, and desserts.

Chicken soup with matzo balls, arguably the star dish of the Ashkenazi cooking pantheon, makes a regular appearance on the podcast. Their guests love it, but doesnt every mother make the best version? I gave it a go before the crisis hit.

A simple, if time-consuming, dish. Everyone has their version; this one is legendary. Chicken thighs and drumsticks simmer for hours, with onions (skin on, for a broth with a darker hue), leeks, carrots, celery and swede. The soup was beautifully sweet, fatty, and satisfying possibly the best chicken soup Ive had. Sorry, Mum. The matzo balls were a touch stodgy, but in the most comforting of ways.

If a cookbook is for expanding culinary horizons, what could be more illuminatory than learning you can shove a whole Boursin cheese between a chickens skin and flesh? A wonderfully gluttonous recipe, one that produces a beautifully tender roast (essentially a massive chicken Kiev), though I had to adjust timings.

A quick and easy, cheats ice cream, made from whipping up double cream, condensed milk, coffee and Ferrero Rocher as rich and delicious as it sounds, with the crunch from the chocolate elevating the dessert.

Every time I see a family cookery book, I worry itll read like one long in-joke. But the podcast has, in effect, created a big family of devotees. That doesnt guarantee success, however. The book isnt perfect (it doesnt always say whether to peel veg, for example). But what it lacks in cheffy precision, it makes up for in humour and damned good food.

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Table Manners The Cookbook review: 'What it lacks in cheffy precision, it makes up for in damned good food' -

How Israelis fleeing the coronavirus in New York met contagion in the skies – The Times of Israel

Posted By on March 30, 2020

Around midday on Wednesday March 18, Adi Israel, a 22-year-old acting student, was waiting to get on an El Al flight to Israel when boarding was inexplicably delayed.

Dear passenger, Flight LY002 from New York to Tel Aviv will take off at 13:30 instead of at 12:30 as originally scheduled, read a text message received by Israels mother in Dimona, who was waiting anxiously for her daughter to return from her acting studies at New York Citys Lee Strasberg Institute.

The coronavirus was spreading in New York, Israel said, explaining why she had decided to fly back that day. Our studies had gone online. My mother wanted me to come home.

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She also felt Israel would be a better place to be during the coronavirus pandemic, because unlike the United States, it has national health insurance.

I thought it would be better to be in the Israeli health system. I have better insurance in Israel than in the United States.

But as she waited to board, the young acting student could see El Al staff urgently consulting with security personnel.

Please sit down, please sit down, staff told passengers. Were not boarding yet.

As she waited, she received a video clip from her mother, who had just filmed a news report directly from the television screen in their living room.

Next to a chilling headline The Corona Plane, Channel 12 news reporter Amalia Douek told viewers that boarding on an El Al flight at JFK airport had been stopped due to fears that some of the passengers had been in contact with coronavirus carriers.

There has been massive infection in [ultra-Orthodox] Jewish communities in New York, reported Douek. There were synagogues in New York that went into lockdown. The purpose is to prevent these people from coming to Israel, to the Haredi communities here. We have previously reported that in meetings in the Prime Ministers Office, the Haredi and Arab communities are mentioned as communities that are not adhering to [social distancing] guidelines. And so the idea here is to take preventative measures and to prevent these people from coming to Israel.

Adi Israel is one of six passengers interviewed by The Times of Israel who flew from New York to Israel on March 18 and 19 and who all tell a similar story. Amid media reports of widespread infection in Haredi neighborhoods of Brooklyn, well over 100 students from the yeshiva at the Chabad movements 770 Eastern Parkway headquarters in Crown Heights all of them Israeli citizens boarded several El Al planes on those two days and were whisked away to hotel quarantine as soon as they landed. Many, if not most of these students tested positive for COVID-19 once they arrived.

Among these students fellow passengers were elderly and sick Israelis who had no idea they were sharing an aircraft with dozens of likely contagious patients. (The incubation period of coronavirus is believed to be five days or longer, and people start shedding the virus before showing symptoms, according to health experts.)

Orthodox Jewish men use social distancing as they pray outside the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, March 20, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, before leaders of six major organizations released a joint statement urging worshipers to avoid, to the maximum extent feasible, any outside interactions to help stop the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Did El Al and Israels Health Ministry suspect these students were infected and let them on the plane anyway? What about the students themselves, who had signed a declaration that they were not sick and had had no contact with anyone who had the disease? Did some of them lie on their declarations? And what responsibility is borne by the yeshiva itself, which reportedly closed its doors and encouraged students to fly back to Israel, as opposed to instructing them to quarantine themselves in New York?

A Chabad spokesman told The Times of Israel that the students had no idea they were infected when they flew. But other passengers on the planes, who are in the midst of a 14-day home quarantine (mandatory for anyone entering the country), are skeptical and demanding answers.

I was afraid

Adi Israel, the acting student, did not fully understand why her Wednesday afternoon plane, LY002, was not boarding on time.

Adi Israel, an acting student, returned to Israel from New York aboard an El Al flight on March 18, 2020 (Courtesy)

We waited and waited. I was afraid.

Behind the scenes, El Al was urgently consulting with Israels Health Ministry and trying to decide what to do about dozens of yeshiva students from the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch in Crown Heights, spokespeople for El Al and the ministry confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Crown Heights, along with other Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Brooklyn, had been hit by coronavirus suddenly and ferociously. On March 9, a single case had been reported in a nursing home in southern Brooklyn. On March 13, Haredi schools in Crown Heights closed following reports of three confirmed cases within the close-knit Chabad community of some 15,000.

On March 15, rabbinic and medical leaders wrote in a letter to the community that at this time, COVID-19 has reached epidemic proportions in our community. On March 17, a report on the Haredi news website said that aCrown Heights Hatzalah member toldHamodia that there are so many cases there that just about the entire community is considered to have been exposed.

Another article that same day on the Chabad website reported that the student dormitory and cafeteria of the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch [also known as the 770 Yeshiva] in Crown Heights was being closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, that no alternative accommodations would be available, and that administrators were encouraging students from abroad to return home. The yeshiva has about 250 students.

Followers of the Chabad movement dance on March 14, 2020, days before 770 Eastern Parkways closure because of the coronavirus. (Youtube screenshot)

It is reported that over 50 bochurim [yeshiva students] have mild symptoms, the article noted.

According to El Al spokesman Ashi Am Shalom, on the afternoon of Wednesday March 18, dozens of students from the Tomchei Temimim yeshiva had already boarded flight LY002 when they were asked to get off again. This was because Israels Health Ministry had received a tip that many of them were sick, he said.

There were rumors, said Am Shalom, so the Health Ministry requested that we have people sign a form saying that they had not met a coronavirus patient in the last 14 days and that therefore they didnt need to be in quarantine. We took people off the plane, we prepared the form, and we had people sign. These were the precise instructions of the Health Ministry. If they had said, Dont put such-and-such person on the plane, or they had said not to let the plane fly, we would have complied.

Meanwhile, most of the other El Al passengers were in the dark.

We waited and waited, said Adi Israel. Finally, someone got on the loudspeaker and said that anyone who wants to board the plane has to sign a release form. You had to declare that you hadnt come into contact with anyone who had the coronavirus in the last two weeks and you had to declare that you hadnt experienced any symptoms, like fever, cough or shortness of breath.

Staff began handing out forms, shouting at passengers to sit down, she said. At one point they ran out of forms and rushed away to print more.

Israel signed the form in good faith, but it occurred to her that the temptation for some passengers to lie would be strong. We were already boarding. People just wanted to get on the plane and get home, she said.

On the flight, Israel wore gloves. She wiped down her seat, armrests and tray table. To the extent that she could, she kept a distance from other passengers.

I knew that most of the time the disease affects older people, but my parents are older and I was going home and I didnt want to endanger them.

The rest of the flight was almost normal. The flight attendants wore masks and gloves but served hot meals as usual. Israel noticed people coughing on the flight, but not in a way that seemed out of the ordinary.

But after the plane landed, something strange happened.

We landed at about 6:15 a.m. Israel time [on March 19]. One of the flight attendants got onto the loudspeaker and said that students from the 770 Yeshiva in Crown Heights should get off the plane first.

About half the people on the plane got up and disembarked, she said. Once they had gotten off, the plane seemed kind of empty.

Videos circulating online as well as news reports in the Haredi and mainstream Israeli media describe what happened next.

A bus with seats covered in plastic and whose driver sat behind a protective shield drove onto the tarmac. The young men boarded the bus without appearing to go through passport control. A man in a mask who appeared to be in a position of authority spoke to them.

The [Health Ministry] has consulted with Chabad rabbis, the man said. According to the information they have about what is happening in [Brooklyns] Crown Heights, they view each and every one of you as effectively having the coronavirus until proven otherwise. From their point of view, every person on this bus has the coronavirus. For this reason, and in coordination with the rabbis and yeshiva heads, it has been decided to take all of you straight to quarantine at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem.

One of the young men in the video protested, if we all have coronavirus why arent you taking the rest of the people on the plane, why just us?

Its not my decision, said the man. Im not a doctor. Ask the Health Ministry.

Several days later, on March 23, Channel 12 reported that 65 of the 114 Crown Heights yeshiva students then quarantined at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem had been found to be infected with coronavirus. The Health Ministry has confirmed to The Times of Israel that the number of yeshiva students infected is probably higher than the 65 cases initially reported.

Adi Israel has spent the last week quarantined at her familys house in Dimona. She has started to develop a fever and cough, she said, and is awaiting the results of a test.

I feel stressed, she said, and disappointed. They knew there were sick people in Crown Heights. If there was even a small worry, they should have found a solution maybe a dedicated plane for all the people from Crown Heights. I feel like they were hiding something from us. When the news first came out that there were sick yeshiva students on that plane, El Al said they would contact the other passengers. But I havent heard from them.

The Dan Hotel in Jerusalem that was converted to receive coronavirus patients, March 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shlomi Am Shalom of El Al said the airline had had no choice but to let the yeshiva students board the plane. We followed the instructions of the Health Ministry, he said.

To discriminate among passengers or prevent someone from flying just because they belong to a particular religious sect or attend a particular yeshiva would be against the law, he said.

I cant decide that someone wearing a suit and hat cant get on the plane. It would be anti-Semitic to do that. And I dont know even who is from a particular yeshiva. It is not written on their ticket.

According to passengers that the Times of Israel spoke to, more students from the same yeshiva boarded additional flights as well, without the other passengers being informed of the risks or the behind-the-scenes deliberations of El Al and the Health Ministry.

Motti Ben Yitzhack and his wife Suzy, both in their 60s from Ashkelon, were among the passengers on flight LY0026 from Newark to Tel Aviv, which took off at 8:30 p.m. on March 18, a few hours after the flight from JFK.

The Ben Yitzhacks had been visiting their children and grandchildren in Monsey, New York, when their son-in-law, an emergency room doctor in Westchester, advised them to cut their visit short due to spreading coronavirus in the United States.

Motti Ben-Yitzhack (Facebook)

I have COPD, a lung disease. My wife and I were very fearful of contagion, he said.

Before getting on the plane, all passengers were asked to fill out the same kind of declaration that they had no symptoms of coronavirus and no contact with someone known to be a carrier, Ben Yitzhack told The Times of Israel.

Several hours into the flight, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: Is there a doctor on board?

The flight attendants brought a middle-aged Haredi man into the Economy Plus cabin where the Ben Yitzhacks sat, and put an oxygen mask over his face.

Rami Schwartz, 33, of Jerusalem, was also on the Newark-Tel Aviv flight with his wife, children and his wifes 93-year-old grandmother. The family were on their way home from a wedding in Washington, DC, that had been canceled at the last minute.

Rami and Doranit Schwartz (Facebook)

The flight attendants suddenly asked if there was a doctor on board. We asked what happened, and they said a man was having a diabetic attack, he said.Schwartz thinks this was a white lie, told so as not to panic passengers.

A medical professional who had gotten up to help the sick man told Schwartz that in reality the man had shortness of breath and a fever. Were going to have to go into really, really thorough quarantine after this, he told Schwartz.

Schwartz said he then overheard one of the flight attendants speaking on the phone.

We must have been over Turkey at that point. She was talking to someone and said that under no circumstances are we doing an emergency landing because then well be quarantined wherever we land.

When the plane landed in Tel Aviv, the sick man was taken off first while the other passengers were told to remain in their seats.

Then there was an announcement that everyone should stay in their seats but that anyone from the 770 Yeshiva in Crown Heights was invited to leave the plane, said Ben Yitzhack. I remember they used the word invited.

Ben Yitzhack said about 20 to 30 people got up and disembarked. When Ben Yitzhack learned later that people on his flight had tested positive for the virus, he was upset. If we had known there was a group of people on board who were at high risk of having coronavirus we would not have gotten on the flight, he said.

Right now were just waiting to see if we have been infected. Every tickle in the throat, every cough, we wonder is this it? Is this what we might have caught on the plane?

Schwartzwonders why El Al and the Health Ministry allowed the flight to go ahead as planned.

We knew there had been an outbreak in places like Crown Heights but we trusted the authorities not to put us in danger. Was this a deliberate decision, to put us at risk for the greater good, or was this an oversight?

On Thursday, March 19, a day after the two eventful flights of March 18, a similar scene repeated itself.

One of the passengers on board flight LY8 from JFK to Tel Aviv was Sheli Bar-Niv, 30, a pastry chef at a Manhattan restaurant whose entire staff had been laid off due to the coronavirus. Bar-Niv had decided that financially and otherwise, it was a good time to return to Israel.

Sheli Bar-Niv (Photo:Nitzan Keinan)

Before passengers were given their boarding passes, she said, they too were required to sign the virus declaration.

While waiting in line, Bar-Niv spoke to some of the Haredi passengers. I heard a few guys saying they were going straight to the Dan Hotel for quarantine, she recounted.

And other people on line said, No, youre supposed to go home to quarantine. Hotel quarantine is for people who test positive. But they seemed to already know they were going to the hotel.

When the plane landed, said Michal, a social work student at Columbia University who was on board, Some people from the Health Ministry boarded the plane. They were wearing those astronaut suits. One of them took over the loudspeaker and said only students from the 770 Yeshiva in Brooklyn can get off.

Between 10 and 20 passengers did so.

Shachar Halevi, 22, a music student at the New School, was also on the flight. Every 30 seconds, he recalled, someone on the plane coughed in a way that alarmed me, he recalled.

Shachar Halevi (Facebook)

A few days later, Halevis parents got a call informing them that there had been positive cases of coronavirus on his flight and that the whole family should go into quarantine.

Halevis father, Yossi Klein Halevi, is furious about the situation.

Something outrageous happened on that flight and I want to know why.I want to know why the Health Ministry allowed this to happen, when they were obviously worried enough about this group of yeshiva students to whisk them away as soon as they landed. I want to know why Chabad in Israel encouraged its students to simply get on the plane, when everyone knew by then that Crown Heights had been severely impacted. And I want to know how El Al allowed the group to board, despite its initial hesitations.

Yossi Klein Halevi (Ilir Bajaktari / The Tower)

This isnt only a personal matter, though of course it is very personal for me, added Halevi, a writer who often contributes to The Times of Israel. This is also an urgent question about how our institutions function in a time of life and death emergency. It is about responsibility and accountability.

Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Crown Heights, told The Times of Israel that as far as he knew, none of the yeshiva students who flew home to Israel on March 18 and 19 knew they were ill.

Your questions are premised on reports that those who flew were symptomatic before departing, but thats not at all what the people with first-hand knowledge are saying, the bochurim [yeshiva students] themselves, he said.

Reports in Chabad-related news outlets do in fact suggest that many of the yeshiva students were believed to be sick but that the Chabad leadership sought to have some of them fly home nevertheless.

An article published on March 17 on the Israeli Chabad site said that Israeli Chabad leaders, at the behest of the Health Ministry, were compiling a list of yeshiva students from Crown Heights who were planning to return to Israel.

Meir Ashkenazi, the deputy director of Magen David Adom-Hatzalah for the southern region and a Chabad activist, is quoted in the article saying many of the young men were believed to be sick.

Since the afternoon we have received queries from parents who want their sons to come home, said Ashkenazi, We have contacted Magen David Adom who told the Health Ministry that there are many students planning to return to Israel in the coming days and in light of the situation in Crown Heights there is a fear that some of them have been infected and will arrive in Israel already sick with coronavirus.

Meir Ashkenazi, deputy director of Magen David Adom-Hatzalah for the southern region (Facebook)

Several days later, Haim Steiner, a Chabad politico and member of the Likud Central Committee, gave an interview to the website, in which he claimed that the Health Ministry initially did not want to let the students fly back to Israel, but was ultimately persuaded to do so.

I spoke to one of the people involved in the discussions between the Health Ministry and Chabad rabbis, he said. At first the Health Ministry wanted to prohibit airlines from bringing these yeshiva students to Israel, but that would have left them on the street without a bed or food, since the yeshiva had closed the dormitory and cafeteria.

Steiner continued, The Health Ministry, in consultation with the rabbis, decided to send the men directly to the Dan Hotel as soon as they landed in Israel. Now that we know how widespread the virus was among the young men, we realize it was the right thing to do because we saved Chabad communities throughout Israel.

Dr. Ashi Shalmon, the head of international relations in the Health Ministry, told The Times of Israel that the Health Ministry decided to allow the Crown Heights yeshiva students to fly because it had no concrete information that the yeshiva students were sick, just rumors and gossip.

On the day of the [March 18] flight, we had no concrete information about anyone being sick. There were only rumors. We tried to talk to Chabad and health care workers in New York, but we did not have verified information about sick people that we shouldnt put on the plane. It was at the level of gossip. Thats why we decided to do this legal thing, to have passengers sign the declarations, because we are not allowed to stop Israeli citizens from entering Israel based on rumors.

Dr. Asher (Ashi) Shalmon, head of international relations for Israels Ministry of Health (Photo: WhatsApp)

Shalmon said that the Health Ministry did have concrete information about one sick person booked on the March 18 flight and was able to prevent him from boarding the plane.

According to Shalmon, there were actually six or seven planes where the Health Ministry whisked away a group of yeshiva students to hotel quarantine.

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How Israelis fleeing the coronavirus in New York met contagion in the skies - The Times of Israel

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