April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Jewish Institutions React to Coronavirus With Unprecedented Steps

With coronavirus spreading concern throughout the nation and world, Jewish organizations, including those at Rutgers University, have taken unprecedented steps to stop the spread of the disease.

Procure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset and the three local hospitals served by the Bikur Cholim of Raritan Valley—Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, and Hackensack Meridian Health JFK Medical Center in Edison have suspended all visitations.

However, Bikur Cholim co-president Lois Goldsmith told the Jewish Link on March 16 that because of the fluidity of the situation the all-volunteer organization, which supplies meals to those unable to prepare or leave their homes as well provide transportation, medical equipment and Shabbat accommodations among other services, is reassessing its role. It also stocks lockers in the medical facilities with kosher supplies.

Goldsmith urged anyone with questions or who is affected to call the organization at (732) 572-7181.

Rutgers University Jewish organizations have also had to cancel or scale back operations.

Rutgers University canceled classes March 12 and 13 and scheduled only virtual classes after spring break from March 23 to April 3. It is asking that residence halls be vacated, and both Rutgers Chabad and Rutgers Hillel have been forced to curtail their activities.

“We followed the Rutgers guidelines,” Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, Rutgers Chabad administrator, told the Jewish Link after a decision was made to postpone its 41st annual National Founder’s Day dinner from March 16 to June 11.

A statement from his father, Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, Chabad’s executive director, said, “In recognition of the challenges and fluidity of the COVID-19 situation and with the recommendation of health officials to minimize social interactions and avoid crowds, we have decided out of an abundance of caution, to postpone the dinner, which was to honor state attorney general Gurbir Grewal and Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg.”

“We pray for a complete recovery for everyone with the virus and that those individuals who have been quarantined and all of us remain healthy,” he said.

Mendy Carlebach said that Chabad housing, which operates men’s and women’s dorms and offers kosher meals, would be closed as of March 13, but if a student needs assistance with housing or food, it would help on a “case by case basis.”

In case classes resume in April, students were asked to clean their rooms in advance for Passover.

“This is unchartered territory for us,” said Mendy Carlebach. “We will take the measures the authorities tell us to do and respond accordingly.”

Hillel Executive Director Andrew Getraer said in a statement provided to the Jewish Link that “as a community we just concluded the celebration of Purim, the Jewish holiday in which we recognize the topsy-turvy, unpredictable nature of the world. So perhaps it is fitting that the whole world seems a bit topsy-turvy right now, with the ever-evolving reality of Coronavirus affecting all aspects of life.’

He said Hillel would continue to monitor and adapt policy as appropriate. However, since the university asked that all events with more than 15 people be suspended through April 15, Hillel has taken steps demonstrating its commitment to the health and welfare of its students and to university policy.

“We are also guided by our commitment to supporting students and providing a strong sense of community, even in his difficult period,” said Getraer.

For a variety of reasons, some students may have to remain on campus, including those that have no home to return to, he said.

Although Hillel will close its building March 13 through April 15—including the College Avenue Café—staff will be available by appointment for meetings with students either individually or in small groups and Hillel will continue to allow programs involving 15 or fewer people. Shabbat dinners through that date are canceled, but Hillel is working to develop alternative Shabbat experiences adhering to health restrictions for any remaining students.

Getraer also said that Hillel has canceled an alternate spring break trip to Colombia, is allowing staff to work from home as appropriate and is evaluating alternate ways to address Passover, services, classes and other issues. In partnership with Rutgers Counseling and Psychological Services, it is making its community-based counselor, Dana Weinstock, available to meet individually with students.

Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick has transitioned to Google Classroom and other online platforms for at least a week, Rivky Ross, the head of school, told the Jewish Link on March 16. It held an in-service day the previous Friday to prepare staff.

“So far it’s going really well, but it’s been a very exciting day,” she said. “It’s different than anything we’ve experienced and with the way society has galvanized to make decisions so quickly, it will be interesting to see how the new reality plays out in all this.”

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