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6 Jewish Responses to the Coronavirus

March 1, 2020 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

As the virus spreads, Jewish and Israeli figures are working to help solve the disease and prevent panic.

As the coronavirus spreads across the world, people are worried. Global stock markets have plummeted over fears of its spread, and many regions have imposed draconian restrictions on travel and movement. God willing, we will soon get the virus under control. As we grapple with Covid-19’s spread, here are six facts about ways Israel and the Jewish people are affected and are trying to help.

Mass Prayer at the Western Wall

Hundreds of people came together for a mass prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, on Sunday, February 16. Despite a huge rainstorm, Israelis and tourists gathered together to fervently pray for those infected with Covid-19. Participants recited prayers in Hebrew and also in Mandarin, as dozens of Chinese tourists who were visiting Israel took part. Among those praying were relatives of people infected with Covid-19, including relatives of three Israelis who were quarantined on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan and infected with the disease.

“The Chinese people need to know that the Jewish people are thinking of them and praying for and with them,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi the Israeli city of Safed and one of the organizers of the event; “May this unfortunate plague cease and vanish from the Chinese people and from the entire world."

Israeli Scientists Working on Vaccine

As medical researchers around the world race to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, some Israeli researchers think they're on the verge of a breakthrough. The Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL) in northern Israel announced on February 27 that a vaccine they are working on might be ready in three weeks. If it is, it could potentially be available to the public within three months.

MIGAL researchers have already created a virus against the coronavirus strain Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), which is a separate disease from Covid-19; they are now trying to adapt it to be effective against Covid-19. MIGAL’s CEO David Zigdon explained that “given the urgent global need for a human Coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development. Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next 8-10 weeks, and to achieve safety approval in 90 days.”

Blaming the Jews for Coronavirus

In some quarters, people are blaming Jews for the coronavirus and accusing Jews of spreading it. “Extremists hope the virus kills Jews,” the ADL noted in a special report released on February 6, 2020. The report noted that anti-Semites “are also using its emergence to advance their anti-Semitic theories that Jews are responsible for creating the virus, are spreading it to increase their control...or they are profiting off it.”

Show of Support for Chinese Victims of Hate

Covid-19 originated in China, and some Chinese people around the world have found themselves scapegoated as somehow being personally responsible for the virus’ spread. On February 21, 2020, over 70 Jewish organizations in the United States, including the Rabbinical Council of America, signed an open letter to the Chinese American community.

“We are writing to express our heartfelt solidarity with you during these tense and troubling times,” the letter assured Chinese Americans. “We are concerned about rising xenophobia aimed at Chinese people in this country and abroad over the COVID-19 ‘coronavirus’. We know that in such times, concern can quickly turn to hysteria, which can lead to scapegoating. We pledge to help ensure that Chinese people feel safe and supported, and to combat attacks and stereotyping on social media. We know from history, ours and yours, that such fearmongering can be devastating.”

In a time of mass fear, the letter is a call to remind us all to be reasonable, to confront Covid-19’s spread in with maturity, and to spend our energy on fighting this disease, not each other.

Promising Equipment Developed in Israel

Many people are donning face masks to protect themselves against Covid-19. Some of the world’s most effective face mask technologies are being developed in Israel.

In Jerusalem’s Argaman Technologies factory, workers embed copper particles inside cotton fibers, blocking germs and bacteria. Argaman founder Jeffrey Gabbay explains that these masks can remain effective for a person’s entire lifetime. A recent order for 1 million masks from a buyer in Hong Kong bought all of the company’s stock, though they are working to produce more masks, and hope to soon have them available for purchase around the world.

Sonovia is another Israeli company working on creating more effective face masks that block germs, and is busy creating a prototype face mask that can guard against Covid-19. Founded by two Bar Ilan University chemistry professors, the company uses ultrasonic fabric finishing technology to infuse cloth face masks with zinc and copper oxide nanoparticles that protect against viruses and bacteria. These masks guard against the flu and it’s hoped that further testing will render them effective against coronaviruses such as Covid-19 as well.

There’s also an urgent need to develop rapid testing capabilities to diagnose people who have Covid-19. An Israeli firm recently announced that it has created a test kit that can effectively and quickly screen for coronavirus. BATM based in the Israeli town of Hod Hasharon announced on February 27, 2020 that its kits have been proven to effectively screen for coronavirus.

Italian Rabbis’ Prayer for Covid-19

Many schools and businesses in northern Italy have been shut down as the region faces a major Covid-19 outbreak that has affected hundreds of people. The Jewish community in the region has been hit hard. In Milan, which is home to about 10,000 Jews, public buildings have been closed and fewer people are venturing out of doors. The city’s sole Jewish school has closed temporarily, and many synagogue services have been cancelled, with people meeting privately in small groups in people’s apartments to pray instead.

Amid this uncertainty, Italian Jews are responding with prayer. On February 26, 2020, the Rabbinical Assembly of Italy published a Hebrew prayer for the victims of coronavirus, which they’re making available for people around the world to recite at home or in synagogue if they wish. “We wish to express our empathy, and we share the pain for the victims and pray for the healing of the sick, wherever in the world this disease has manifested itself and will strike next.” The prayer calls on God to help end the spread and the fear of Covid-19.

As Covid-19 spreads, it’s crucial that we all exercise caution while avoiding panic. Many common-sense actions that prevent transmission of other viruses can help slow its spread. Coughing into a handkerchief or one’s elbow, disposing of tissues in trash bins, cleaning surfaces frequently and washing hands often are all potent ways we can protect ourselves.

In the meantime, we can all take pride in the way that Israeli scientists and Jewish leaders have reacted to this virus, working hard to come up with solutions and also reminding us all of the need to face Covid-19 and other problems with maturity and humanity.


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