Our Father, Our King! Send complete healing to the sick among Your people.
We have entered uncharted territory in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Tim Walz issued an emergency executive order, “Directing Minnesotans to Stay at Home,” which went into effect on the night of March 27. The order extends through April 10.
The governor also is running a TV public service announcement, in which he says: “COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to our state. The State of Minnesota and our private partners are doing everything we can to protect Minnesotans, but we need your help. Minnesotans, stay home and let’s make sure we keep our family, our friends, and our neighbors safe.”
As the Jewish World went to press this week, 576 people in Minnesota had been infected with the coronavirus and there have been 10 deaths from COVID-19, mainly residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. And we have learned of several COVID-19 infections in our local Jewish community.
Health officials have recommended that people, as much as possible, stay isolated in their homes. This behavior could break the chain of transmission of COVID-19, for which we have no immunity and there is no vaccine as yet. Infections are expected to increase over the next couple of weeks; but the strategy of physical distancing is intended to “flatten the curve,” so hospitals will not be overwhelmed by a surge of patients requiring ICU beds and ventilators, which are in short supply.
Northern Italy has experienced dire consequences from the pandemic, which has killed more than 11,000 people in that country, including 63 doctors who gave their lives in the cause of healing others. With more than 100,000 infections — the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases after the United States — Italy imposed a strict lockdown.
Recent press reports say that these measures have worked to the extent that Italy may be virtually free of new COVID-19 cases by the middle of May. “Experts from the Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF) carried out calculations using data from the Civil Protection Department on the rate of infections, concluding that the disease could be practically eliminated in the country within the period May 5 to May 16,” according to Newsweek.
In the executive order issued by Gov. Walz, newspapers were listed among the “critical sector” businesses allowed to operate during this crisis. I’ve been working alone in the office over the past week, and our staff members have been working from home. The U.S. Postal Service is still delivering mail; so, hopefully, subscribers will receive this Passover special edition in a timely manner.
As for the Passover seder on the evening of April 8, it will be different from all other Passover seders. In this regard, the Minnesota Rabbinical Association (MRA) recently provided some guidance: “This year for Seder, our Minnesota Rabbinical Association urges people to gather only with those currently under the same roof as we prioritize health and well-being. We acknowledge that may mean being physically alone.”
The MRA advisory continued: “We recognize that many households will choose other, creative ways to connect with family and friends that do not rely on being present in person. Even as we create distance, we must use this moment to draw close in other ways and turn to synagogue, agency, and organizational Pesach resources that promote a wide range of options. The lack of physical contact will save lives, and we also know it is deeply painful to miss the companionship of a holiday celebration filled with loved ones. Please stay home now so we can show up together in the future in good health and peace.”
As one might expect, many people are not taking the precautions needed to flatten the curve, to tamp down the rate of coronavirus infections. A Florida pastor, for example, was arrested by sheriff’s deputies March 30, after he defied the ban on large gatherings in the Sunshine State.
“Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne said he wouldn’t close the doors of his Tampa, Florida, megachurch until the End Times begin,” CNN reported. “The police weren’t willing to wait that long…. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said Howard-Browne has been charged with two counts: unlawful assembly and a violation of health emergency rules. Both are second-degree misdemeanors.”
And similarly reckless attitudes can be found among some of our co-religionists. On March 30, the New York Times reported on the situation in Israel: “Ultra-Orthodox Jews failing to comply with government instructions to contain the coronavirus are causing it to spread so quickly that Israeli officials are considering blockading entire communities to protect the wider population.
“The virus is mushrooming in ultra-Orthodox communities as much as four to eight times faster than elsewhere in Israel.
“In the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, where 95 percent of the residents are ultra-Orthodox, the number of confirmed cases nearly doubled in the last three days, from 267 on Friday to 508 on Monday. The total was nearly that of Jerusalem, whose population is four times bigger.”
Also, The Times of Israel, an online news outlet, published a well-reported and gruesome story this week about an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv that was packed with students from the main Chabad yeshiva in Brooklyn, many of whom were infected with the coronavirus.
From the story: “Amid media reports of widespread infection in Haredi neighborhoods of Brooklyn, well over 100 students from the yeshiva at the Chabad movement’s 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.”
Of course, this grossly irresponsible behavior — allowing dozens of infected students onto an airliner with elderly and ill passengers — endangered many lives.
Simona Weinglass, who wrote the article, had some questions: “Did El Al and Israel’s 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?”
Among the passengers on the El Al flight was Shachar Halevi, 22, a music student at the New School in New York. “Every 30 seconds someone on the plane coughed in a way that alarmed me,” he told The Times of Israel.
And as it happens, Halevi’s father is Yossi Klein Halevi, a prominent Israeli journalist and author. The elder Halevi was “furious about the situation.”
“Something outrageous happened on that flight and I want to know why,” Yossi Klein Halevi commented. “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.”
You can read the entire Times of Israel story at: bit.ly/chabad-yeshiva-elal.
Given the abysmal failure of President Trump to get out ahead of this health catastrophe — “We only have five people [infected]. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great,” he said on Jan. 30, as the World Health Organization was declaring a global emergency — governors and local leaders have stepped into the breach. And our doctors, nurses, EMTs, orderlies and other frontline health care workers are the great heroes of the coronavirus outbreak. They deserve our respect and support — and they must have personal protective equipment (PPE), so that they are not being needlessly endangered in the workplace.
The Jewish people have endured many trials over the millennia, and we will survive the current crisis. Hopefully, this shock to society will be the occasion for a rethinking of our way forward. There is an urgent need to transition to a sustainable economy and a more humane social order. And we can get through these challenging times without resorting to racial scapegoating.
May all of our readers have a happy and meaningful Passover.
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com