Cuomo optimistic about Shavuot, USY cancels summer programs, Israelis crowd beaches


Jews in New York State may be able to gather legally for small-scale religious services during the next holiday, Shavuot.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his daily coronavirus briefing Sunday that his office planned to release guidance early this week about what New Yorkers can do over Memorial Day weekend and beyond, JTA reported. Shavuot, which includes synagogue services and all-night study, begins three days later on May 28.

“Can we find a way to do a ceremony — a religious ceremony, or a ceremony that honors Memorial Day? I think we can,” Cuomo said, responding to a question specifically about observance outside of New York City. He said services would be limited in size and would require social distancing to be practiced.

Religious services have been barred since mid-March, when Cuomo issued an executive order prohibiting gatherings of any size in a bid to slow the coronavirus’ spread. Recently, as the number of new cases have slowed, rabbis on Long Island have been openly sparring over whether to permit in-person prayer services.

The Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth has cancelled its summer travel programs for teens this year, the latest in a string of canceled Jewish summer programs, USY has announced. The announcement comes as several Conservative Ramah summer camps are expected to announce that they are canceling their sessions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some two dozen camps, including those run by the Union for Reform Judaism, already have announced that they will cancel this summer.

In an email to parents, USY said they could seek a full tuition refund or credit for a future program, or donate a portion or all of the money to the youth group.

“At this time, we do not believe that we could provide trips that could guarantee the safety and health of our teens while providing an exceptional experience. We are all disappointed,” the online message from USY stated. 

New York City’s Orthodox Jews make up half of all plasma donors in this country volunteering blood to help treat COVID-19 patients, London’s Daily Mail reports. The paper quotes Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic, who is running a study on the effects of plasma to treat the virus, as calling “our Orthodox friends” the most numerous of participants in a plasma donation study.

“’I would be shocked if they were less than half the total,” Dr. Joyner said. Thousands of Americans who have recovered from coronavirus are donating their blood to plasma clinics in the hope that it can be used to treat other people struck down by the virus.

Recommended reading: “In Montreal, Minyans on Balconies Serve as Bridges Across Cultures.” The Tablet article examines how outdoor prayer by chasidic residents has served to knit together a diverse community that includes local Muslims and French-speaking Catholics.

Ashley Blaker, a prominent charedi Orthodox comedian from England, will perform online for synagogues, schools, yeshivas and charities on a completely “pay what they like basis.” Last month Blaker put together a free Coronavirus Isolation Comedy Book on his website. For information:

The New Orleans-based Jewish Children’s Regional Service, which has provided a wide variety of social services since 1855, has announced that it is offering “needs-based” financial assistance to college students for the 2020-21 academic year. Students from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas are eligible. The application deadline is May 31. For information: or

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest will begin online on Tuesday with dozens of events that will continue until May 28. Top chefs such as Michael Solomonov, Einat Admony and Adeena Sussman will take part. The free event iso inviting donations to five food-related COVID relief funds that support restaurants and those who are food insecure.


Thousands of Israelis packed the country’s beaches this weekend even though regulations to control the spread of the coronavirus forbid it, JTA reports.

Israel’s beaches are set to reopen on Wednesday with social distancing rules in place. But when temperatures in Israel rose above 100 degrees on Friday and Saturday, Israelis headed to cool off in the water anyway, appearing to pack them much closer than regulations will allow. No lifeguards were present, and pictures show few people wearing masks.

Police patrolled the beaches in Tel Aviv but did not hand out any fines, as they had threatened. Loudspeakers called on swimmers to get out of the water.

Israel’s Institute for Biological Research has successfully completed its coronavirus vaccine experiments on rodents and will soon move on to testing it on other animals and then humans, according to the Jerusalem Post. If the experiment goes as planned, IIBR could complete vaccine development within a year or less.

During the trial, scientists in the Ness Ziona-based lab administered the vaccine to 50 percent of the rodents. Then, it infected all of them with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The vaccinated rodents remained healthy and the unvaccinated rodents contracted the virus.


J Lens will sponsor its second “Jewish Impact” investing summit online on Monday and Tuesday, noon-3 p.m.

The American Jewish Committee will sponsor an online conversation, “Has COVID-19 fundamentally changed our relationship with religion?” on Monday at 1 p.m. Participants will be Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles, and Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Seminary.

Rabbi Jason Weiner, director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, will discuss “Is Risking My Safety for the Greater Good, Really Good?” in a webinar on Monday at 3 p.m.

JWB Jewish Chaplain’s Council and the ShalomLearning educational organization are offering several online programs to Jewish members of the U.S. military for free.

The Hadar Institute has announced upcoming activities: its Project Zug Summer Cycle, which begins on June 21, an “opportunity to learn virtually with a designated partner each week. “Responsa Radio Live!”, Monday at 7:30 p.m., which feature a live taping of the podcast with Rabbi Avi Killip and Rabbi Ethan Tucker.

YIVO will sponsor a webinar on “Dybbuks, Golems, S. An-ski, and Jewish Legends in Times of Fear” on June 3 at 6 p.m. For information:

American Friends of the Hebrew University and Nexus:Israel will sponsor a webinar on “Lessons from Start-Ups That Help Navigate This Uncertain Time” on Monday at noon.

The Orthodox Union’s Department of Synagogue and Community Services will sponsor a webinar on “Calm Amid Corona: Growth Perspectives for 2020” on Monday at 8 p.m.

Experts from Israel’s Soroka Medical Center will participate in a webinar on improving your sleep during a time of coronavirus on Monday at noon.

The Mikvah USA organization will sponsor a webinar on Monday at 9 a.m. on the subject of the safety of mikvah use during the coronavirus era. To watch: Zoom ID 824 9152 8788, password 541619.

The Israel Film Center Festival has announced that its schedule, June 7-14, “will be a completely virtual experience this year,” featuring a lineup of films and television programs from Israel. It is presented by the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan; films will be available for 24 hours after their initial screening time, and include Q+A discussions with filmmakers and talent.

The opening night selection, June 6 at 8:30 p.m., will be the New York premiere of Gur Bentwich’s 2019 comedy “Peaches and Cream.”

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