Mikvahs Stay Open, Passover Travel Shut Down, Israel Buries its First Victim


Ritual baths, or mikvahs, specifically for the observance of family purity laws will be the “very last things to close,” according to Naomi Marmon Grumet, founder and executive director of the Eden Center, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization that works to improve the experience of mikvah for women.

While synagogues and schools have largely shuttered over the past weeks, no women’s mikvah in Israel or abroad has yet closed due to the coronavirus, according to Grumet. The Jewish Week contacted mikvahs in Manhattan, Riverdale, Brooklyn and New Jersey — all remain open, albeit with restrictions. Most women’s mikvahs are continuing to operate by appointment only. Extra precautions are also being taken, including mikvah attendants standing six feet away from the person submerging and women being asked to prepare for the ritual dunk at home.

Meanwhile, six major organizations representing American Orthodox Jews have issued guidance for their followers about Passover, which begins in just over two weeks. Travel of any kind is not permitted, according to the guidance, which also sketches out a strategy for small-scale shared seders.

“Individuals living alone or those absolutely unable to prepare for Pesach may choose to self-quarantine for 14 days, and then – if asymptomatic – may join with a welcoming local family that is similarly asymptomatic and that has been disciplined in staying home and limiting their interactions outside the home to the absolute minimum as described above,” the guidelines state. “These guests may join one family only for the duration, without additional company.”

Jewish nonprofits are anticipating layoffs, downsizing and closures during the economic downturn that will most likely deepen over the course of the pandemic. The UJA-Federation of New is making more than $23 million in immediate financial aid available to help offer immediate relief to New Yorkers facing food insecurity and to assist UJA partner organizations “so they can continue to provide essential health and human services to their communities.”  UJA-Federation is also joining several national groups — including the United Way, the YMCA and YWCA, and the American Cancer Society — this week in asking Congress for emergency funding to nonprofit organizations nationwide.


As of Monday, 1,656 Israelis have tested positive for coronavirus, with the vast majority of cases mild, while in the West Bank, 57 cases have been diagnosed, the majority of them in Bethlehem.

Holocaust survivor Arie Even, the first and so far only Israeli to die from the coronavirus, was buried in the dead of night with mourners standing six feet apart and funeral workers wearing Hazmat gear, JTA reports. Even, 88, a native of Hungary who survived the Holocaust, was a retired Israeli diplomat. He died Friday at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem and was buried in the wee hours of Sunday in Jerusalem.

Rabbi David Lau, Israel’s Chief Ashkenazic rabbi, has called on the public to fast at least half a day on Wednesday, which marks the eve of the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. “Difficult days are affecting all of Israel and the entire world,” he wrote in a public letter. “At this time, it is on us to do some soul-searching.” For those who can’t fast due to the difficulty or because of health reasons, Rabbi Lau said, they should take on a “ta’anit dibur,” a practice in which one abstains from all speech that does not concern Torah or prayer.

Rabbi Lau also asked that during the afternoon prayers of Mincha, people add the Selichot prayers for forgiveness that are recited as part of a practice observed by some on the eve of the first day of each month called “Yom Kippur Katan,” a Minor Day of Atonement, including fasting and supplication.

As part of Israel’s “coronavirus hotel” initiative for patients with light symptoms, one hotel in Jerusalem, the Prima Palace, has been designated for the charedi Orthodox community, following a request from community leaders. The Israeli Army’s Home Front Command, Magen David Adom and the Israel Police have prepared hotels to serve as quarantine and recovery facilities for coronavirus patients in light condition.

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has approved $2 million in special grants to 15 Israeli hospitals for respiratory equipment and other lifesaving machinery during the coronavirus crisis, the organization has announced. In addition, the Fellowship has purchased 20 special testing devices for Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency medical response organization. The assistance to hospitals is part of a $5 million emergency fund that The Fellowship announced on March 16.


Rabbis from the major denominations of Judaism will take part in an online pre-Shabbat Zoom gathering, designed to have the Jewish community “come together in prayer, song, and learning,” sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York on Friday at 2 p.m. Participants in the “CommUnity” program will be rabbis Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue, Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue, Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, Menachem Creditor, UJA-Federation’s scholar-in-residence, as well as the philanthropy’s CEO Eric Goldstein.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah will sponsor a Zoom meeting tonight with psychiatrist Michelle Friedman, the yeshiva’s director of pastoral counseling, about coping with the current coronavirus crisis. The event will start for the general public at 7 p.m.; for parents with children at home at 8:30 p.m. The event is being hosted by Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.

The Jewish Flame outreach organization will hold a phone class on the Haggadah and the seder Tuesday at 9 p.m. The dial-in number is (712)-451-0200, access code 182173. It and future classes will be suitable for older children.

Dr. David Pelcovitz, professor of psychology at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School, will take part in a teleconference on “the emotional concerns of ourselves & families during times of uncertainty” on Tuesday at 3 p.m. The event is sponsored by Relief Resources International. To access it: (617) 829-6595; no access code is needed. In Israel: 972 76 599 0016, access code 104411#. In England, 44 330 088 1939, access code 104411#.

Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz, founder of the Kol HaNeshamah educational organization in Manhattan, will discuss “Spiritual and Practical Tips to Enhance Your Seder” in a Zoom seminar on Thursday at noon.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust has launched a series of new, virtual programs to continue serving audiences while temporarily closed in accordance with COVID-19 social distancing measures. Upcoming programs include a reading and chat with author Helen Epstein on Tuesday at noon, and a speech about “Yiddish Humor During WWII” at noon Wednesday with  Prof. Anna Shternshis of the University of Toronto.


Hazon, the Jewish outdoor and environmental education organization, has compiled resources from its archives and partners, at Hazon.org/StuckInside, and has launched a comprehensive social media campaign to “elevate educational resources, community connections, gardening workshops, Hebrew lessons, and other Jewish study opportunities across the country.” The organization also is convening online meetings “for our communities to share resources and support,” including daily live-streamed and participatory prayer services. In Detroit, Hazon has launched a citywide food-rescue and garden-planting program to immediately to support those most vulnerable with food.


Author Meryl Ain, a former Jewish Week kosher food columnist and wife of JW staff writer Stewart Ain, has written an article titled “How to Celebrate Passover During the Pandemic” for the kveller.com website. “2020 has brought us a modern plague — coronavirus. As social distancing proliferates and governments mandate lockdowns, that means more and more synagogue services, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other communal programs are cancelled. And now, we’re left to wonder: What will we do about Passover, which is just around the corner?”