Coronavirus-free South African nursing home says Kaddish, names babies for those under lockdown


(JTA) — The 400 residents of a Jewish nursing home in South Africa, which was locked down two weeks before the country ordered nationwide restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19, are free of the virus.

That has enabled the home, Sandringham Gardens in Johannesburg, to continue holding a daily prayer service with the required 10 Jewish adults. It is believed to be the only such prayer service currently taking place in the city, and as word of the service spread, residents began receiving requests to say prayers on behalf of Jews worldwide who could not recite the prayers themselves because they could not gather a prayer quorum.

“They feel privileged and honored to have the merit of doing this,” Rabbi Jonathan Fox, who officiates at the service, told The Times of Israel.

Traditional Jewish practice requires a quorum, known as a minyan, to recite certain prayers. Those include the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer of remembrance for the dead. With social distancing mandated for much of the planet, virtually no services are being held anywhere — and mourners have been prevented from reciting the Kaddish. Also impossible is the public naming of a baby girl, a practice that typically accompanies the public reading of the Torah — another ritual that requires a minyan.

The Sandringham Gardens minyan has been doing both on behalf of a growing list of Jews worldwide. The service is reciting Kaddish on behalf of 1,200 people and has named 15 baby girls. Requests have come in from as far afield as Canada, Uruguay and Brazil.

“This pandemic is teaching us many personal, spiritual and global lessons – some painful and others inspiring,” said Saul Tomson, the CEO of Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish welfare organization that established Sandringham Gardens over a century ago. “In a strange, reciprocal manner, the young people are keeping their distance from the elderly so that this miraculous little minyan can care for their spiritual needs. It is a complete reversal of the norm.”

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