Crown Heights Chabad Community Mobilizes Against Coronavirus

Two days after the Crown Heights Rabbinical Board issued an emergency notice with strict guidelines for community members over 65 to stay away from synagogues the board ordered all shuls [synagogues] within the area to close temporarily. 

The initial notice stated that going to a house of worship under these circumstances would be violating the commandment of taking care of one’s health, but the final push that closed the chief synagogue in Crown Heights, known by its address 770 [Eastern Parkway], came at 12 a.m. this morning. 

“Jewish faith relies on miracles,” said Mendy Coen, a Crown Heights resident and business owner of WUKHealth, “lots of Jews look at this and say we survived so much, what’s this in the face of that?” 

This troubling denial comes in the wake of confirmation from the Borough Park-based Yeshiva World News (YWN) website that more than 100 cases have been confirmed overnight in Boro Park, with about 1,000 tests that are still awaiting results. Crown Heights has hundreds and possibly thousands of cases, with some people already placed on respirators, according to the site. 

A  White House phone meeting regarding the urgency of emphasizing social distancing was conducted by the President Trump’s assistant Avi Berkowitz and implored Hasidic rabbis and leaders of the Orthodox community to take this message back to their hometowns. 

Discussed during the conference were the dangers of intergenerational contact, worsened exceptionally by the fact that many of the younger virus carriers aren’t even aware that they have it. Within the orthodox community, family is often held at high priority, with weekly or even daily visits to relatives’ houses’ not an uncommon phenomenon. 

“The most lethal combination,” said Israeli Minister of Defense Naftali Bennet, “is when  grandma meets her grandkid and hugs him- this is the single most important thing.” Transmitting the disease this way can increase an older person’s chance of getting sick and expose them to a 15-20% chance of death, explained Bennet. 

To the unfortunate tune of irony, while the conference was taking place, a wedding in Ateres Avrohom Hall in South Williamsburg was shut down by the FDNY in light of the state restriction on gatherings of 50 people or more. According to the New York Times, even after breaking up the celebration, large crowds of people remained mingling in the streets. 

But according to Gothamist, Rabbi Abe Friedman, a community leader in the Williamsburg/Boro Park area, the proliferation of positive tests on Tuesday had successfully convinced many in the community to socially isolate. That afternoon, Shmira, a private neighborhood crime patrol group, drove through the streets of the Hassidic community in  Borough Park announcing to stay indoors through loudspeakers attached to the roof of their car.

In Crown Heights, the virus is starting to be taken more seriously as well. A voice message from Crown Heights resident Rabbi Goldstein made its rounds yesterday, in which Goldstein emphasized the importance of raising awareness of the brutality of this virus which has put his father in the hospital in critical condition.

“People don’t realize what’s going on,” he said. “People want to keep it private and it’s a big mistake- once it hits home it’s serious.”

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