In light of the growing danger to public health that is being caused by the rapid spread of the novel Coronoavirus (COVID-19), we are calling upon New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to call for the closing of all schools in the city. And this means public schools, private schools, yeshivas and parochial schools. Thus far, 18 states have announced that they are closing their public and private schools in an attempt to stave off the continous growth of the dreaded Coronavirus. We understand that the mayor is under the assumption that he does not want to shut down life as we know it in the city and more to the point, he does not want to make it even more difficult for parents who work to juggle both their jobs while finding child care for their kids.
At this juncture, however, seeing that President Trump has called the spread of the Coronavirus a national emergency and has released over $50 billion in government funds to offset the financial challenges that this virus has caused, we strongly believe that in order to preserve human life in the nation’s largest and most bustling city, DeBlasio has no choice other than to issue a direct mandate that all schools must be shuttered until this fatal virus becomes a thing of the past.
Thus far, private schools on the upper east side and upper west side of Manhattan have voluntarily closed in the interest of safety for their students. We applaud them for doing so, but we also remind the mayor and everyone else in this city, that one does not have to the child of a high income family to have his/her life protected. No matter what our zip code is, every child, teacher, principal and staff member deserves the same level of protection as their lives are worth just as much as those who just happen to fall within the affluent range.
In terms of yeshivos and schools in Jewish communities throughout New York City, some have closed voluntarily at the advice of leading health professionals and prominent scientists. They include Yeshivah of Flatbush, Magen David, Manhattan HS and others. The fact is that allowing schools to stay open would be ill advised as they can easily morph into breeding grounds for the virus and will ultimately cause devastation to the families across the city.
Currently, the Torah U’Mesorah movement of schools have decided to keep their schools open in the belief that having children continue to learn Torah and davening to Hashem with Kavanah will arouse the compassionate of the Almighty and perhaps in their merit, this reprehensible “mageyafa” (plague) will cease. There is no doubt that this school of thought is indeed correct and highly laudable, however, because the situation is so severe, these schools have arrange for online learning with teachers and staff. We are a creative and innovative people, and somehow, if we all put our heads together and do some serious brainstorming, we can devise a way in which Torah learning can continue to flourish among our precious youth, without putting their lives or the lives of their family members in grave danger.
As of this writing, the schools that follow the Torah U’Mesorah guidelines such as Ateret Torah, Shaarei Torah, Yeshiva Derech Eretz and Orot Sarah, have made the decision to remain open. We firmly believe that this is not only a foolhardy position but a dangerous one. We take this opportunity to appeal to them to quickly rethink this matter and to close these schools immediately.
Former New York City Councilman David Greenfield has recently posted a tweet that said, “EVERY YESHIVA needs to have a plan in place to close down for the rest of the year. WE are days away from public schools shutting down. Yeshivas will have to do the same. Call or e-mail your yeshiva and ask them what the plan is.”
As to Mayor DeBlasio, we would exhort him at this time to follow the lead of both Italy and Spain to announce the complete lockdown of the entire city. Health professionals and those who are leading experts in the field of infectious diseases have said that this virus has the capacity to take countless lives as it devastates the planet. Having said this, it would behoove the mayor, for the sake of the safety of all New York City residents and beyond to issue strict rules about public gatherings.
Presently, the mayor has said that the limit in terms of people gathering for any public function would be 500. We find that figure totally unrealistic and dangerous. The Coronavirus is disseminated through walking carriers (people sneezing and coughing in close proximity to other people). When 500 people gather, there is no doubt that a great many of them will end up sneezing and coughing.
Our rabbis have told us that even in minyanim in large synagogues, it is prohibited for a group consisting of more than 20 people to assemble and that those assembling for prayer are required to stand at least 6 feet apart from each other.
People should be encouraged to work from home if at all possible and people should exercise great caution while riding on any form of public transportation. Cleaning crews should be given extra duties in terms of completely disinfecting all public places.
In addressing the attendance at weddings, bar mitzvahs and other simchas and joyous occasions it has come to our attention that Benny Caterers, the exclusive caterers for Shaarei Zion has continued to provide food for weddings, despite the prohibition of attending such events. All businesses who do not respect the new rules about social engagement and cannot abide by the new rules of social distancing, should be brought to task by a panel of leading members of the community and urged in the strongest of terms t cease such aberrant behavior.
With the upcoming YomTov fast approaching, there is no doubt that many families are quite disappointed that their plans to attend a kosher for Passover hotel, cruise ship or foreign destination have been abruptly cancelled due to the Coronavirus. We have received reports that some kosher tour operators have publicly claimed that they are cancelling their events and are refunding the payment of those who signed up for them. Sadly, we have discovered that this is simply untrue.
Because we have been in regular contact with the kosher travel industry, we have learned that despite the warnings issued that tell us that it is highly dangerous for people to gather in public settings, we have learned that certain tour operators are attempting to reassure those who ar planning to attend that there is no problem to have 500 people or ore circulating about in a hotel for eight days over Passover. Let this be crystal clear. These hotels attract well over 500 people who end up mingling in close quarters and frankly, these hotels are breeding grounds for the transmission of the Coronavirus from one person to the next.
This scenario is totally unacceptable and ethically repugnant, no matter how you slice it.
Our concern remains the health and well being of our children, our teachers, our parents and grandparents and everyone we love! Please join the Jewish Voice as we forge ahead in our objective of providing the latest news on the Coronavirus to our readers and working assiduously to protect our community!