New Rochelle Lawyer ‘on Road to Recovery,’ While Officials Probe a Spike of Cases in Borough Park


The Jewish attorney at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle has emerged from his coma. Lawrence Garbuz “is awake and alert and seems to be on the road to full recovery,” his wife, Adina, said Wednesday in a Facebook post. She has communicated with him through FaceTime.

Originally diagnosed with pneumonia, Mr. Garbuz had been on a ventilator since March 1. His wife and two of their children also contracted Covid-19.

A one-mile containment zone has been set up around New Rochelle with the hope of slowing the spread of Covid-19.

New York State has the largest number of confirmed cases in the country: As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been at least 2,959 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus discovered in the state, including at least 1,871 in New York City.

City and state authorities were looking at a spike in the number of cases in Brooklyn’s heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, but so far are not treating the 150-plus cases as a “cluster,” defined as cases that can be tied back to the same origin.

On Wednesday, Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, told The New York Times: “There’s two possibilities: There’s a lot of testing that’s going on or potentially one or more individuals that have been infected” have spread it to others. “So that’s something that’s new on the radar and we’re investigating that.”

A spokesperson for the city’s health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, was adamant that the Borough Park cases had not been designated a cluster. “Our Health Commissioner has looked into it and has not identified any connection between these cases,” tweeted Freddi Goldstein.

Earlier this week, after facing some criticism that weddings and synagogue services had continued in charedi Orthodox neighborhoods after most other institutions agreed to shut down, community leaders agreed to ban or limit large gatherings.

Agudath Israel’s Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah issued an “urgent call” Wednesday urging followers to heed the advice of “medical professionals,” but did not explicitly call for synagogues and study halls, or batei medrash, to close. “[W]ith doctors warning and imploring not to gather together in Shuls and Batei Medrash even to daven or learn, and that every person should not leave home unless absolutely necessary because of the real danger to human life, we implore each person to listen to the direction of the expert medical professionals who are unified in warning about the seriousness of the current situation,” read the proclamation.

The OU and the Rabbinical Council of America have joined Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in calling for a half-day fast on Thursday and “pray for mercy and favor for the entire Jewish nation and the entire world who are now in distress.”

Around the city, Jewish institutions continue to shift their activities online.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs will sponsor a “The Jewish Community and the Pandemic” webinar, featuring a healthcare expert, on March 20 at 2 p.m. For information:

The Orthodox Union’s Women’s Initiative and OU Israel, partnering with the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, have launched a virtual speaker series for women focused on sharing “Pesach ideas and inspiration.”

On Sunday, March 22, Slovie Jungreis Wolff will speak about “Powerful Pesach Insights: Emunah and Geula in Our Times”; Mrs. Raisel Freedman will speak about “Changing Faces at the Seder” on March 29; Dr. Chani Tannenbaum will speak about “The Surprising Roots of Yitziat Mitzraim,” or the exodus from Egypt, on April 5. Each half-hour, pre-recorded program, will start at 10:30 a.m.

The website will sponsor its first virtual seder on Zoom Sunday, April 12, 2 p.m. Leaders will be Eileen Levinson, the website’s founder, and journalist Esther Kustanowitz. The event will also stream on Facebook Live.

YIVO is making all of its online courses for free.  “YIVO wants to help keep our spirits lifted and provide content to sustain our minds and soul,” said Jonathan Brent YIVO’s executive director. The subjects of the Shine courses include the evolution of Yiddish theatre, the history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and Ashkenazi folklore and more.

The Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, which has moved its classes online, will offer two new free online a fellow of the Center for Israel Studies at Yeshiva University series of classes for Passover – taught by Rabbi David Silber, Drisha’s founder, and Dr. Shana Strauch Schick, a fellow of the Center for Israel Studies at Yeshiva University, beginning next Monday.

The Great Kosher Restaurants website has compiled a list of area restaurants’ delivery policies, and closings, during the current pandemic.

Seeds of Peace, which has for nearly three decades run a conflict resolution camp in rural Maine, concentrating on relations between Israelis and Palestinians, announced on Wednesday that it is cancelling both of its summer sessions this year “because of the worsening situation with coronavirus disease.”

Fr. Josh Thomas, interim executive director, said the camp will organize “a series of community conversations, both in person and online,” over the summer and fall, “for Seeds, Educators, board members, staff and supporters to talk together about our vision, strategy, and impact. We will resume regional programs as soon as circumstances allow.”

Meanwhile, in Israel …

The country on Wednesday closed the door fully on foreigners visiting Israel, barring all non-citizens from entering the country even if they could show they had a place to stay for the mandatory two-week home isolation earlier imposed on incoming passengers. The Foreign Ministry said exceptions would be made “for those whose lives are based in Israel.”

Israel yesterday identified 433 carriers of the virus.

Israel has suspended the controversial, long-planned arrival of more than 250 Ethiopian Jews that was scheduled for this month. The first airlift, of 50 immigrants, was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

The future of the emigres, who remain in Ethiopia, is in limbo during the coronavirus crisis, says former Knesset member Avraham Neguise, an Ethiopian-born activist in Israel. “They have given up everything,” he told The Times of Israel. “The people sold all their belongings after they were told they would depart.”

Future airlift flights on Ethiopian Airlines were to arrive on March 25 and 31, Neguise said.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef told Health Minister Yaakov Litzman that people should leave their phones on during Shabbat. “There is no doubt that all those tested for coronavirus have to have a phone on during Shabbat so [the Health Ministry] will be able to update him on his results and tell him where to evacuate,” the rabbi said. “Even those who did not get tested should leave his phone on, so he would be able to be briefed in case it is discovered that he was near a confirmed carrier.”

Rabbi Yosef also ruled that all synagogues at hospitals should be closed, since it is difficult for people to keep a distance of two meters (6.6 feet) while in them.

The Jaffa-based Peres Center for Peace & Innovation has announced that it is offering online lectures and Facebook Live sessions “for the whole family, featuring some of the very best minds in Israeli innovation.”

The lecture series, in Hebrew, starts on Thursday at 4 p.m. (Israel time) with Kfir Damari, the co-founder of SpaceIL, who will discuss the journey of the “Beresheet” spacecraft that travelled to the moon. The next session in the series, on Monday 23 at 9 p.m. (Israel time) will feature entrepreneur Inbal Arieli, who will innovation and leadership during periods of uncertainty.

Subsequent sessions will include Dror Tamir, co-founder of Hargol FoodTech, who will talk about the impact of coronavirus on the environment; Prof Hossam Haik of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, who will discuss the future of our health; and Dr. Roey Tzezana, futures studies researcher, who will talk about optimism and responsibility during the coronavirus crisis.

And finally, Israeli actress Gal Gadot hosted a singalong of fellow celebrities, including Sarah Silverman and Natalie Portman, performing John Lennon’s “Imagine” from wherever they appear to be sheltering in place. The post attracted over 4 million views in 15 hours.

UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a guide to help the Jewish community find advice, resources and opportunities for learning during the virus outbreak.