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6 employees and 4 residents of Jewish-operated assisted-living facility in suburban Atlanta test positive for coronavirus

56 min 40 sec ago

(JTA) — Six employees and four residents of a Jewish-operated assisted-living facility in suburban Atlanta have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Jewish HomeLife, which operates Berman Commons in Dunwoody, Georgia, sent a letter on Sunday to residents of the facility and their families, the Atlanta Jewish Times reported.

Two days earlier, four residents in the memory unit tested positive for COVID-19.

Some 43 employees were tested on Friday as a precaution, according to the facility, including those who work in the memory unit.

The employees found to have the virus were asymptomatic, according to the letter. Employees are asked screening questions and have their temperatures taken before entering the facility, and visitors were barred early in the pandemic.

On Friday, residents of the Berman Commons assisted-living wing were directed to remain in their apartments and communal dining was stopped. Meals have been delivered to the residents’ apartments.

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Netflix’s ‘Unorthodox’ Is Yiddish, feminist and just what we need now

1 hour 12 min ago

This story originally appeared on Kveller.

Back in 2012, when Deborah Feldman’s memoir “Unorthodox” came out, several people recommended I read this tale about a young woman leaving the Hasidic Satmar sect.

I didn’t follow the advice, but I should have. It’s an important and engrossing autobiographical work.

“Unorthodox” has inspired an incredible new Netflix miniseries by the same name. Starring Shira Haas of “Shtisel,” this is reverent and beautiful television.

Haas plays Esther “Esty” Shapiro, a woman struggling to find her place in the same Brooklyn Satmar community where Feldman grew up. Like Feldman, who wrote in secret, Esty has a secret passion: music. Like Feldman, her father is incapacitated, her mother has left the community and she is raised in part by her bubbe.

But Esty’s story isn’t a carbon copy of Feldman’s. It’s more of an amalgam of the many high-profile tales of those who left ultra-Orthodoxy, such as Shulem Deen, Jericho Vincent and Abby Stein, who has a small role in the show.

Haas brings a powerhouse performance, and Esty’s character is powerful and specific. Yet it’s a universal tale found in the stories of Hasids who have gone “off the path” — those who feel like a square peg in a round hole in their restrictive and tight-knit communities. In each instance, for every chunk of freedom sought, there is a price — ultimately, the dissolution of the relationship with your family and the only community you’ve ever known. That is a heavy and constant price to pay.

In the show, which came out last week, Esty keeps searching for her happiness — in clandestine piano lessons, in a marriage that she hopes will bring her freedom (spoiler: it does not), and then by escaping from Brooklyn to Berlin, where her ex-Hasid mother lives. While she finds a new community of musicians in the German capital, and a way to follow her love for music, it’s safe to say there is no way to neatly tie this story in a happy-ever-after knot. There is no place in the world that will be a square hole for this square peg. Just a place that perhaps feels a little less painful, a little more right.

Many do find their place and happiness within ultra-Orthodoxy: It offers them faith, community and comforting rituals. But for those who grow to feel out of place, the exit is arduous and incredibly painful and, in some ways, never truly complete. “Unorthodox” portrays this journey with emotional eloquence.

If you are worried that this show contains a two-dimensional portrayal of ultra-Orthodoxy, let me assuage your fears. Sure, unlike “Shtisel,” the Israeli show about haredi Jews, this show centers on someone who rejects their religious community. But the portrayal of Orthodoxy is handled with utmost sensitivity and care.

For a start, the show is partly in Yiddish — a novel choice that feels very respectful and very right. Both Haas and her co-star, Amit Rahav, learned the Jewish tongue spoken by the Satmar community for the show. It was a difficult for both actors, entailing hours of lessons from Eli Rosen, the rabbi in the show and himself an ex-Hasid (Rosen and actor Jeff Wilbusch, who is also ex-Satmar, helped make sure every minute detail in the show was accurate, down to the length of the socks.)

It’s striking to see a show in which Yiddish is front and center. I found myself admiring the show for its beauty, musicality and warmth. One scene that features a song in Yiddish is breathtaking. And the choice of Yiddish helped engross me in the community being portrayed — a complex one, like all communities, with villains and heroes and everything in between.

Esty’s husband, Yanky, played by Rahav, is a particularly strong and complex character. His love and devotion — his desperation for her to remain with him — is heartwrenching.

Yanky offers to love Esty, quirks and all, and at first she is thrilled by the concept. On their wedding day, the exhilaration on Esty’s face is intoxicating — you see that she truly believes that in marriage she will find freedom. But it all sours as the couple work to consummate their marriage. Esty feels oppressed by her husband’s sexual desire and her physical inability to return it.

The marriage scenes are the most intimate. A journey to the mikvah before the wedding shows Esty dipping in the ritual bath, impatient and giddy with excitement. As a viewer, the scene felt even more shocking than the lovemaking scenes of the two — they entail no nudity but can be stomach-churning because of Esty’s discomfort. But intimacy and sacredness are communicated in the show, and nothing feels salacious.

Yanky is distraught when Esty leaves him without saying a word. And he follows her to Berlin — a complex place for the Satmar community. For Esty it’s where her mother sought freedom from her community, and where she comes looking for her own. But the Satmar community was started in Europe and re-established itself in New York in the wake of World War II, on the ashes and trauma of the Holocaust. The show really drives home that point — in a way that sometimes feels a bit didactic, but still powerful.

Motherhood is an important part of the show — both the void that Esty’s absent mother created as well as Esty’s fear that she will not know how to be a mother because of it. It is never addressed in the show, but undergoing the journey to find her own happiness is not only something that Esty does for herself, but for her future children and their well-being. She does not want them to grow up with an unrealized, angry or absent parent, as she did.

“Unorthodox” is a beautiful show, and Esty is a magnificent character. Her harrowing coming-of-age tale is universal, and I feel like many of us, religious and secular, will see ourselves in certain moments of the portrayal.

A show this profoundly human is exactly what we need now, in days where we all feel so lonely and so detached from our communities — and so scared that things will be this way forever. “Unorthodox” reminds us that life is a constant search, that happiness is not always the end goal, and that sometimes you just have to work through some — pardon my French — real tough shit before you come through on the other side.

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Attorney sues Cuomo over NY ban on large gatherings, says it infringes on ability to observe Jewish faith

1 hour 57 min ago

(JTA) — A Brooklyn attorney has filed a lawsuit accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of violating his right to free speech and ability to observe his Jewish faith because of the state’s ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus.

Lee Nigen also alleges that telling state residents to limit travel, Cuomo has violated his right to meet with clients, friends, family and “like-minded people,” the New York Post reported.

Cuomo signed an executive order requiring an indefinite ban on large gatherings on March 23. He has yet to impose a travel ban.

The suit filed Friday in Brooklyn federal court named Cuomo and the state government.

“Mr. Cuomo’s threat that his directives will be enforced by law enforcement cause Mr. Nigen to fear arrest if he attempts to travel for any other purpose other than getting medical attention or obtaining groceries, thus impermissibly chilling his exercise of his constitutional rights to travel,” the suit says, according to the Post.

Nigen has been strongly criticized on his Facebook page.

“Your rights stop when the purpose is to protect the greater good,” read one comment. “During a horrific time for the country, you feel the need to file a lawsuit? As a Jew, I’m ashamed you use our religion for this nonsense. And then you wonder why people hate us? Go ahead- ignore the warnings, spread the virus in your community and let’s see how many Jews are dead thereafter you schmuck.”

Nigen posted in response to the criticism.

“To those who ill consider my dissent, I still wish you well, and treasure the right you have to express your opinion,” he wrote. “To the extent that fleeting flame has come upon me at this time of plague and panic, there is only one favor I ask of all: Be well and be free.”

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Attorney at center of New Rochelle coronavirus outbreak released from hospital

5 hours 56 min ago

(JTA) — The attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York has been released from the hospital, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Cuomo did not identify Lawrence Garbuz by name during his daily news conference on Sunday.

“The ‘patient zero’ — what we call patient zero in Westchester, New Rochelle — who was very sick for a very long time, he has actually gone home,” Cuomo said, adding: “He’s out of the hospital.”

Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, Garbuz, 50, had been on a ventilator and in an induced coma from March 1. His wife, Adina Lewis Garbuz, announced on social media on March 18 that he had wakened from his coma.

Garbuz was directly connected to 37 other confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York, including his wife, two of their children and a neighbor. Following his diagnosis, a one-mile containment zone was set up around his synagogue, the Young Israel of New Rochelle.

Cuomo was asked what those observing Passover and Easter should do when large gatherings are prohibited and people are being urged to remain in their homes.

“Worship the way you can, but the gatherings are just not a good idea,” he said. “It’s hard. But on the flip side I say look at what happened in New Rochelle: Those gatherings that brought people together were religious gatherings and brought hundreds of people together, which was beautiful, but made a lot of people ill.”

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Monsey stabbing victim, in coma since December attack, has died

5 hours 57 min ago

(JTA) — The most seriously injured victim of the stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey in late December has died.

Josef Neumann, 72, died on Sunday afternoon. Though he remained in a coma from the time of the attack to his death, he had begun to open his eyes in February, leading to calls to keep praying for a full recovery.

The assailant’s knife penetrated Neumann’s skull and cut into his brain. His right arm also was shattered. Four other people were injured in the Dec. 28, 2019 attack.

The first announcement of his death came in a tweet from the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.

Neumann had seven children, “many grandchildren,” a great-grandchild, and brothers and sisters.

The alleged stabber, Grafton Thomas, 37, has pleaded not guilty to 10 federal hate crimes charges along with six counts of attempted murder and several assault and burglary counts in Rockland County court.

If it is determined that Neumann died of his injuries, Thomas could face the death penalty.

We are sad to inform you that Yosef Neumann who was stabbed during the Hanukah attack in Monsey late Dec 2019, passed away this evening.

— OJPAC (@OJPAC) March 30, 2020

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William Helmreich, sociologist of U.S. Jewry and inveterate New Yorker, dies of coronavirus

6 hours 17 sec ago

(JTA) — Sociologist William Helmreich, 74, an academic with eclectic interests whose areas of expertise ranged from race relations to urban life to Orthodox Jewry, died of coronavirus on Saturday.

A longtime professor at City College of the City University of New York, Helmreich penned more than a dozen books, ranging from the seminal 1982 book “The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry” to “What Was I Thinking: The Dumb Things We Do and How to Avoid Them.”

“Helmreich is extraordinarily energetic and voluble,” The New Yorker wrote of Helmreich in a 2013 piece by Joshua Rothman about Helmreich’s chronicle of his urban walks in New York City, “The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in New York City.” Research for the book had Helmreich walking city streets nearly every day for four years, and he later expanded his work by following up with specific guides for each borough.

“I love the city,” Helmreich was quoted as saying. “I love to read about the city, to live the city, to walk the city.”

Born in Switzerland in 1945 to parents who were Holocaust survivors, Helmreich came to the United States as an infant and grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He went to Yeshiva University for college and obtained his doctorate at Washington University in St. Louis.

He lived most of his life in Great Neck, on New York’s Long Island, where he was part of the local Orthodox Jewish community. Helmreich was a member of Great Neck Synagogue.

“Willie was in precisely the wrong profession for the coronavirus: He was a sociologist and he loved interacting with people,” Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Social distancing was not in his nature. Connecting with people is the point of his book about walking New York, and his scholarship also saw him exercising his interview skills in a wide range of ways. His book ‘The World of the Yeshiva’ pioneered a subject that few, at the time, considered worthy of study.”

Among Helmreich’s other books are “Against All Odds: Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives they Made in America,” “The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark and Metrowest,” and “The Black Crusaders: A Case Study of a Black Militant Organization.”

At the City University of New York, Helmreich held the title of “distinguished professor,” the highest academic honor that CUNY bestows on its faculty.

Helmreich is survived by his wife, Helaine, and three children: Deborah Halpern, Joseph Helmreich, and Jeffrey Helmreich, a professor of philosophy and law at University of California, Irvine. A fourth child, Alan, died two decades ago.

A private graveside funeral took place Sunday. Due to the pandemic restrictions in place in New York, in-person shiva visits are not possible.

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Influential Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki remembered for promoting ‘cultural dialogue’ between Poland and Israel

16 hours 45 min ago

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki died Sunday at 86 in Krakow, Poland, and was remembered by the Israeli embassy in Warsaw.

“His work has found a special place in the hearts of music lovers and will be remembered in Israel as having great significance for cultural dialogue between Poland and Israel,” the embassy said on Facebook.

Penderecki’s avant-garde and at time atonal compositions made him one of the most respected classical music composers of the 20th century, but he also composed scores for Hollywood films like “The Shining” and “The Exorcist” and collaborated with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who was an avid fan of his work.

Penderecki, who was not Jewish, was born in 1933 in D?bica in southern Poland. He witnessed the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in his hometown during World War II. His early work was inspired by the war’s brutality, including the “Death Brigade,” composed on the 20th anniversary of liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

Penderecki’s “Seventh Symphony” commemorated Jerusalem’s 3,000 year anniversary in 1996. He combined motifs typical of Middle Eastern music with Christian elements.

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lorin Maazel, premiered the piece in 1997.

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New Jersey man arrested after threatening Orthodox Jews for ignoring coronavirus restrictions

Sun, 2020-03-29 18:31

(JTA) — A New Jersey man sent Facebook messages to Gov. Phil Murphy and others threatening harm Orthodox Jews for violating state coronavirus restrictions.

Anthony Lodespoto, 43, of Howell, was charged Friday with making terroristic threats during a state of emergency, law enforcement officials said in a statement.

Lodespoto allegedly used Facebook’s direct messaging feature to threaten the Jewish community of Lakewood, a New Jersey township with a large Orthodox population that has reported a higher number of coronavirus cases than surrounding areas.

“The threats largely consisted of Lodespoto threatening to travel to Lakewood with the purpose of assaulting members of the Jewish community with a baseball bat,” the statement said.

As of Thursday, Lakewood had 198 confirmed COVID-19 cases, by far the most in Ocean County, according to the county Health Department, the Asbury Park Press news site reported.

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Bernie Sanders’ Florida campaign office vandalized with swastikas

Sun, 2020-03-29 18:25

(JTA) — A Florida campaign office for Bernie Sanders was vandalized with swastikas.

A tweet Saturday from the Florida for Bernie account showed two large swastikas painted in black and the words “voting didn’t stop us last time.” It did not say where in Florida the office is located.

“Didn’t know if we should share, but one of our grassroots Bernie offices in Florida was vandalized with swastikas. Sheriff sent a team to clean it up. But Bernie is just another old white man, right?” it said.

Several replies called the vandalism “fake.” Others accused a Sanders staffer of drawing the graffiti.

Earlier this month a protester identified as a known white supremacist unfurled a Nazi flag at a Sanders rally in Phoenix.

Sanders has been more open about his Jewish identity during the current Democratic primary contest, but he trails former Vice President Joe Biden in the race.

Didn’t know if we should share, but one of our grassroots Bernie offices in Florida was vandalized with swastikas. Sheriff sent a team to clean it up. But Bernie is just another old white man, right? pic.twitter.com/zRFxdTBKKQ

— Florida for Bernie (@FL4Bernie2020) March 28, 2020

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Conservative pastor says spread of coronavirus in synagogues is punishment from God

Sun, 2020-03-29 18:21

(JTA) — Rick Wiles, the Florida pastor who claimed that the effort to impeach President Trump was a “Jew coup,” said the spread of coronavirus in synagogues is a punishment of the Jewish people for opposing Jesus.

Wiles made the claim Wednesday on his TruNews broadcast.

“The people who are going in to the synagogue are coming out of the synagogue with the virus,” Wiles said. “It’s spreading in Israel through the synagogues. God is spreading it in your synagogues! You are under judgment because you oppose his son, Jesus Christ. That is why you have a plague in your synagogues. Repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and the plague will stop.”

Wiles also claimed that the U.S. outbreak started at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington, D.C., in early March. In fact, the first case and the first outbreak were both reported in Washington state.

In November, Wiles called the impeachment effort a “Jew coup,” and said that Jews will also “kill millions of Christians.” Wiles’ TruNews website regularly releases anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and homophobic videos.

In February, TruNews was permanently banned from YouTube, but it continues to receive media credentials from the White House.


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Gaza protest rallies canceled due to coronavirus

Sun, 2020-03-29 18:13

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Mass rallies planned to be held on Gaza’s border with Israel have been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

The rallies set for March 30 were scheduled to mark the second anniversary of the Great March of Return, a mass convergence on the border to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

“We call upon our people not to go to the return encampments on March 30 and to stay home in order to maintain the safety of our people in the face of this lethal pandemic,” Khaled al-Batsh, a senior member of Islamic Jihad, told Reuters.

The first march took place on Land Day in 2018 and left at least 15 Palestinians dead and hundreds of protesters injured. Palestinians  have observed Land Day since 1976, when six Israeli Arabs were killed and another 100 injured during protests over the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel.

The marches took place nearly every week for more than a year, but were canceled by Hamas in November. Hamas, which controls the coastal strip, has called the marches “part of a non-violent popular struggle.”

There have been at least nine cases of coronavirus identified in Gaza.

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Hundreds attend funeral of religious leader in central Israel, flouting Health Ministry directives

Sun, 2020-03-29 15:36

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of members of Israel’s haredi Orthodox community attended the funeral of a religious leader despite government restrictions on the number of people who can participate in such ceremonies due to the coronavirus crisis.

About 400 mourners gathered in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak for the funeral of Rabbi Zvi Shenkar Sunday morning, Ynet reported. The mourners did not follow social distancing rules, crowding the street and the cemetery.

Police forces were present during the funeral but did not enforce limits on the number of people nor social distancing requirements, according to Ynet.

Tel Aviv District Police had requested that the community limit attendance at the funeral, but then agreed to allow general participation after organizers promised people would adhere to social distancing rules, Haaretz reported.

“The guiding principle in this case was a quick end to the funeral and preventing clashes and much larger gatherings that would have escalated the situation,” Israel Police said in a statement to Haaretz.

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— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) March 28, 2020


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Two residents of Jewish nursing home in suburban Cleveland test positive for coronavirus

Sun, 2020-03-29 14:42

(JTA) — Two residents of Montefiore, a Jewish nursing home in suburban Cleveland, tested positive for coronavirus.

The facility in Beachwood, Ohio, made the announcement in a statement on Saturday, the Cleveland Jewish News reported. Both of the residents are now hospitalized.

More than two weeks ago the facility put safety protocols and restrictions into place, including only allowing essential staff and vendors into the building and checking the temperature of anyone entering.


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Alfred Landecker Foundation providing emergency funding for Holocaust survivors affected by COVID-19

Sun, 2020-03-29 14:02

(JTA) — The Alfred Landecker Foundation has created a fund to provide emergency support for Holocaust survivors affected by COVID-19.

The 1 million euro ($1.12 million) fund is meant to support elderly survivors who are vulnerable to the coronavirus and who are suffering from the effects of self-isolation.

The fund will initially benefit four organizations: UJA Federation in New York, Jewish Care in the United Kingdom, AMCHA Israel, and the Central Welfare Organization for Jews in Germany.

Holocaust survivors are likely to be vulnerable to the virus due to their age, but also are susceptible to mental health problems in situations of prolonged isolation, the foundation said in a statement.

“During these particularly difficult and uncertain times we have a responsibility towards Holocaust survivors, who have experienced a terrible trauma and tragedy in the past. We will need to invest in new forms of communication to ensure that their needs are met,” Andreas Eberhardt, the foundation’s CEO, said in the statement.

Based in Berlin, the Landecker foundation directly supports Holocaust survivors and funds educational projects about the Holocaust.

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Israel’s National Library launches project to document impact of coronavirus on Jewish community

Sun, 2020-03-29 13:53

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The National Library of Israel has created an archive to document the impact of the coronavirus on Jewish communities around the world.

The Jewish Community COVID-19 Archive will be made up of “ephemera items” — materials not generally intended for long-term preservation. Such items often help scholars understand daily life and social trends, the library said in a statement.

“As the dynamic institution of national memory for the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide, we see it as a very natural and critical role for us to be collecting and preserving materials related to how coronavirus is impacting Jewish life and practice,” said Yoel Finkelman, curator of library’s Judaica collection.

The library is asking for contributions of materials that document the impact of the virus, including emails about online synagogue services, appeals to help isolated community members, and announcements about innovative Jewish law rulings. Materials can be emailed to ephemera@nli.org.il.

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Haredi rabbinic leader calls on followers to pray alone

Sun, 2020-03-29 13:25

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent leader in the haredi Orthodox community, called on his followers to pray alone without a prayer quorum.

The ruling on Sunday came after a steep rise in the number of coronavirus cases in Bnei Brak, a mostly haredi city in Israel, and following a funeral early Sunday morning of Rabbi Tzvi Shinker, which was attended by hundreds of people despite Health Ministry directives limiting funerals to only 20 people.

Kanievsky said that refraining from praying with others is a matter of “pikuach nefesh,” or saving a life, according to reports.

Rabbis in Bnei Brak were expected to release their own letters reiterating Kanievsky’s order.

Two weeks ago, Kanievsky called for haredi schools and yeshivas to remain open despite Ministry of Health limitations.


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Daniel Azulay, renowned Brazilian artist and educator, dies of coronavirus at 72

Sun, 2020-03-29 13:17

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Daniel Azulay, one of Brazil’s most prominent children’s artists and educators, died March 27 at 72 in Rio de Janeiro. Azulay was being treated for leukemia when he contracted the coronavirus.

Azulay was the creator of “Turma do Lambe-Lambe,” a group of children’s characters that starred in television shows that a generation of Brazilian children grew up watching. More recently, he focused on painting, displaying his work in exhibitions abroad and illustrating a picture book about a Brazilian child who moves to the United States.

Azulay was also deeply connected to Brazil’s Jewish community, which numbers about 100,000. He was a descendant of the founding members of Rio’s first Sephardic synagogue.  At 21, Azulay was a member of the Brazilian tennis delegation to the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem.

Azulay offered his art to several Jewish institutions. He created logos for the Brazilian Sephardic Congress and the Israelite Religious Association, Rio’s largest synagogue, also known as ARI.

“He was always available with a big smile that lit up his face,” Diane Kuperman, a former vice president of the Rio Jewish Federation, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “He was once very active at ARI, especially with the education department, for which he created a very beautiful logo with a lion named Ari.”

Thousands of Brazilians left tributes on Azulay’s official Facebook page late Saturday, many sharing recollections of watching his show or pictures taken with him.

“He was an idol for countless kids like me. … I have kept the letter that he wrote to me in response to the drawings that I sent him,” Deborah Biereg Ehrlich wrote in Portuguese. She ended her comment in Hebrew with a traditional Jewish expression of mourning: “zichrono livracha,” or “may his memory be a blessing.”

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Cremation of first Jewish victim of coronavirus in Argentina stirs controversy

Sun, 2020-03-29 05:09

BUENOS AIRES (JTA) — Despite protests from a Jewish community near Buenos Aires, the first Jewish victim of the coronavirus in Argentina was cremated by local authorities, causing controversy and sparking concern among other Jewish communities throughout the country.

Cremation of the dead is not allowed under religious Jewish law.

Ruben Bercovich, a 59-year-old businessman and father of three, passed away on Thursday in Resistencia, the capital of the northern Chaco province. Bercovich, owner of the BercoMat construction materials company, had returned to Argentina on March 9 after a trip to the United States.

His death and subsequent cremation has started a dialogue between Argentine rabbis and officials over a possible compromise to uphold Jewish law. Authorities said the cremation was a best practice to avoid further spread of the disease.

Rabbis and officials have already compromised on leaving open mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths. Those who wish to use one correspond with the government and get a code to enter once they are deemed healthy enough.

Bercovich was active in Jewish institutions in the Chaco community and represented Argentina in golf in global Maccabiah Games events.

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Rabbinical school dean participates in experimental coronavirus treatment

Fri, 2020-03-27 20:52

(JTA) — Among the mysteries of the coronavirus is that some patients suffer and ultimately die from the disease while others experience the symptoms as akin to a mild cold.

Rabbi Daniel Nevins is in the latter category. The dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Nevins was laid up for a few days earlier this month with a fever and some aches, and then recovered.

Nevins was tested for the coronavirus on March 12 and a week later got back a positive result. A week after that, he was tested again. Friday morning, he got the result: All clear.

Within hours, Nevins was hooked up to a machine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York to donate blood plasma. In the race to develop effective treatments for the disease, researchers are investigating whether antibodies from the blood of people who have successfully fought off the disease may provide treatment for people who with more serious symptoms.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration allowed doctors to treat critically ill coronavirus patients with plasma on an experimental basis. Plasma has been shown effective in treating other infectious diseases, like polio, measles and influenza.

“I felt fortunate that my mild case of this illness might turn into a blessing for people who are seriously ill,” Nevins told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “The Torah teaches us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. My Midrash [interpretation] is that no, instead lie down in a donor bed and give plasma.”

Mount Sinai was among the first hospitals in the country to figure out how to detect antibodies in the blood of people who had recovered from coronavirus, the New York Times reported. Whether or not those antibodies are effective remains to be seen.

“It’s kind of difficult scientifically to know how valuable it is in any disease until you try,” said David Reich, the president and chief operating officer of Mount Sinai, told the Times. “It’s not exactly a shot in the dark, but it’s not tried and true.”

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The coronavirus hasn’t stopped immigration to Israel

Fri, 2020-03-27 20:33

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Aviva Karoly, an attorney originally from Queens, New York, and her husband, Tzvi, were raised in religious Zionist homes and always dreamed of living in Israel.

In preparation, the couple had sent their 6-year old son Adi to a Hebrew-speaking preschool. They also put off purchasing a home in the United States with aliyah, or immigration to the Jewish state, on their minds.

After years of discussion and planning, they made the leap.

Unfortunately, their move coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“We didn’t know if the flight would go the day we were leaving,” Karoly said. “No one could tell us what to expect when we landed, if our insurance would be provided then, if transport would be provided from the airport. We were told to come up with backups and backups.”

The Karolys are far from alone.

According to the Jewish Agency, the nonprofit that encourages and promotes Diaspora ties and immigration to Israel, more than 800 new immigrants have arrived since the beginning of March, with another 200 expected before the start of the Passover holiday on April 8. The organization’s global call center has been fielding hundreds of calls a day, and while it is “operating in an emergency mode,” only about 100 new immigrants have canceled their plans, a spokesperson said.

As the novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, killing nearly 27,000 as of Friday, Israel has not been spared. Over the past several weeks, the government has imposed a series of increasingly severe social distancing regulations, culminating in a one-week ban on most Israelis traveling more than 100 meters — the length of a football field — away from their homes.

According to the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, a local consortium of researchers advising the Ministry of Health, 46.9% of Israelis who contracted the virus did so abroad. This reality has prompted the government to require all travelers entering the country to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return. That includes new immigrants like the Karolys.

“No one could tell us what to expect when we landed,” said Karoly, a 35-year old mother of two from New York’s heavily Jewish Crown Heights neighborhood. “I was freaked out. It was intimidating.”

The Karoly family from New York City arrives in Israel. (Courtesy of the Karolys)

She was speaking Tuesday from quarantine in her new home in the central Israeli city of Modiin, where she was quickly escorted on arrival last week at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

“Aliyah has never been stopped under any emergency situation in the State of Israel,” the Jewish Agency spokesperson explained. “We’re not dissuading olim [immigrants] from coming now, but they need to know that the regulations are a bit different.”

In addition to the mandatory two-week self-quarantine, immigrants must sign a declaration that they have a place in which to isolate themselves.

Many newcomers who, like the Karolys, arrived through Nefesh B’Nefesh — an organization devoted to helping people immigrate to Israel and adjust to society there — already had apartments set up or relatives with whom to stay. Others, like a group of 72 Ethiopian immigrants who arrived on Tuesday, have been placed in a converted youth hostel outfitted for quarantine.

The Jewish Agency says that it checks on the isolated immigrants by phone on a daily basis. Likewise, Nefesh B’Nefesh, whose staff is now working remotely, has been checking up on its clients, making regular phone calls and even sending groceries to the homes of newcomers without a pre-existing support network.

“We are making sure everyone has their basic needs met,” said Nefesh B’Nefesh Executive Vice President Zev Gershinsky.

Nefesh B’Nefesh has placed its biggest focus on employment for the immigrants. As the government shuts down large segments of the Israeli economy, newcomers will find it more difficult to support themselves.

“We are doubling down on efforts to find more and more companies who are recruiting and push it out to our job board,” Gershinsky said.

While Karoly and her husband have been unable to receive their Israeli identification cards or open a bank account while in quarantine, their neighbors have been helpful in setting up their apartment. They are even doing grocery shopping for them, she said.

“Literal strangers helped with everything, even towels and hangers. Our every need has been taken care of,” Karoly said. “My son is so excited to be here. We’ve been blessed with a private garden and he’s been outdoors 80% of the day playing with toys people keep dropping off. We will all go stir crazy, but for now it’s an exciting experience.”

Miriam Yifrach, 23, a returning citizen who made aliyah from Boston last week after finishing a master’s degree, said her arrival in Israel was a surreal experience.

“I got to the airport and everyone was in masks and there were no lines,” she recalled.

Yifrach was unable to take care of most of the usual aliyah logistics that many immigrants handle at the airport with the help of groups like Nefesh B’Nefesh. Instead, she was sent straight from Ben Gurion to her temporary rental apartment in Jerusalem.

Her brother, who is currently serving in the Israeli army, sent her a spare SIM card and his credit card number so she could have internet access (she’s producing a vlog) and order food. Otherwise nothing is ready.

“I’m like this cat that wandered in. I have this passport but that’s it,” Yifrach said. “It’s a little crazy having groceries delivered and going between the same two rooms and a garden, but I have no regrets. Definitely not.”

Joel and Tsipporah Adelman are shown before their flight to Israel, where they admit they are going a bit “stir crazy” in quarantine. (Courtesy of the Adelmans)

Another couple that made aliyah last week were Joel and Tsipporah Adelman of Huntington, New York, retirees who went straight into quarantine in the English-speaking Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, where their son and his family reside.

“Things are bad worldwide, but this has been our goal and our dream for decades, so we came even though we knew that it wouldn’t be easy getting here. And it wasn’t,” said Joel Adelman, who spent years as a rabbi on Long Island. “There were questions if they would let us on the flight, and when we got to the airport it was deserted and nobody knew what to do.”

The couple acknowledge that they are going a bit “stir crazy,” but their son lives nearby and is bringing them groceries. Their daughter-in-law is cooking meals for them to be delivered as well.

To stave off boredom, Joel says he tries to learn Torah and Tsipporah says she has been reading a “never-ending supply of books.”

Despite the quarantine, Joel said, “we’re ecstatic to be here.”

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