The Headlines

COVID-19 Update

New Rochelle attorney wakes from coma: On Wednesday, March 18, Lawrence Garbuz, the attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York, “is awake and alert and seems to be on the road to full recovery,” his wife, Adina, wrote on Facebook. “Now that we, as a family, can see a light at the end of the tunnel, my family – even children – are all on board to offer what we can to medical research to see if it can help bring a cure or stop the damage of this virus. I truly hope we can be of help.”

Israel successfully tests faster COVID-19 testing method: Researchers at Israel’s Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Health Care Campus have successfully tested a new method, called “pooling,” that they claim will dramatically increase the country’s ability to test for COVID-19. Because the method enables simultaneous testing of dozens of samples, its implementation will greatly accelerate the rate of COVID-19 testing and detection, according to the researchers. According to Dr. Yuval Gefen, director of the Rambam Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, “Today, we receive approximately 200 COVID-19 test samples a day, and each sample undergoes individual examination. According to the new pooling approach we have currently tested, molecular testing can be performed on a ‘combined sample,’ taken from 32 or 64 patients. This way we can significantly accelerate the testing rate.”

770 Eastern Parkway is closed: The international headquarters of the Chabad movement shut down for the first time ever overnight on Wednesday, March 18, after rabbinic leaders in Crown Heights ordered synagogues closed. Before shutting its doors, the building hosted one final prayer service and dance party. 

Hotspot emerges in Hasidic Brooklyn: More than 100 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood that houses the global headquarters of Chabad, a representative of an urgent care clinic there told JTA.

Jewish influencer Arielle Charnas announces her diagnosis: Jewish mom of two Arielle Charnas announced to her one million-plus followers on Instagram that she has tested positive for the coronavirus. She also documented the process of getting the coronavirus test.

White House calls Orthodox rabbis to urge COVID-19 compliance: Take the coronavirus seriously and follow Trump administration guidelines on limiting gatherings of people. That was the message from the White House in a conference call with New York Orthodox rabbis and Jewish leaders on Tuesday, March 17. Among those on the call were haredi rabbis. The haredi community in some cases has been slow to tamp down on large gatherings and close synagogues. The White House asked the rabbis to close yeshivas and schools that are still open. Avi Berkowitz, an assistant to President Donald Trump and an Orthodox Jew, led the call. Berkowitz went over the guidelines with the leaders, The Jerusalem Post reported. Berkowitz told the rabbis that not adhering to the guidelines, including not holding prayer services, would see the situation “turn into a serious issue of pikuach nefesh,” or saving a life.

Cellphones on Shabbat: On March 19, Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef issued a ruling that religious Jews must leave their cell phones turned on during Shabbat in order to receive coronavirus updates, and in order for the Health Ministry to immediately inform people that they may have been exposed to the virus and need to quarantine.

Council of Torah Sages calls for half-day fast: The Council of Torah Sages of America, part of Agudath Israel, joined by The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, called for a half-day fast and day of prayer on Thursday, March 19, to ask God to intercede and stop the coronavirus pandemic. The council asked people to recite extra psalms and engage in intense prayer. The council also said in an open letter that the community should adhere to directives such as closing synagogues and yeshiva study halls and remain at home.

Israeli president reads to children from a distance: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin read the classic children’s story “Dira Lehaskir,” or “Apartment for Rent” online for Israeli youngsters sheltering at home. He said in a message to parents: “I know that this not an easy time and that children are home, and even though we all love being together as a family, this is a challenge. So, I decided to give you a short break, to be with you – from afar – but with you. … Read along with me, the whole family or just the children, (and take the time for a coffee, without your phone).”

Eurovision 2020 canceled: On Wednesday, March 18, the Eurovision song contest scheduled to be held in Rotterdam, Holland, in May was canceled due to the spread of coronavirus. Israel had been set to be represented by  Eden Alene, an Ethiopian Israeli who planned to sing “Feker Libi,” which features verses in Amharic,  Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Rivlin reaches out to Abbas: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reached out to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in light of the coronavirus crisis. “The world is dealing with a crisis that does not distinguish between people or where they live,” he said in a statement on Wednesday, March 18. “Our ability to work together in times of crisis is also testament to our ability to work together in the future for the good of us all.”

Encouragement from space: Jewish astronaut Jessica Meir is orbiting the Earth, making her one of only a few people with no risk of coronavirus exposure. On Tuesday, March 17, she tweeted a photo of Tel Aviv that she took from space with a message: “This too shall pass.”

Tracking COVID-19 patients through their cellphones: The Israeli government passed emergency regulations that allow security services to track the cellphones of coronavirus patients. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved the move, which circumvented the approval of the entire Knesset and the oversight of several committees.

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