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London rabbinical court allowing some products not certified kosher for Passover due to coronavirus

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Why will this Passover be different from all others?

This year, the London Beth Din, or religious court, has created a list of permissible products not made  under special supervision for Passover due to difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The Kashrut Division of the court developed the list, titled “Product guidelines in extremis,” from an array of basic goods to help quarantined families and those who are struggling financially due to the virus, the UK Jewish News reported.

“We are acutely aware of the pressures at this unprecedented time,” the Kashrut Division director, Rabbi Jeremy Conway, said in a statement. “We already know why this Seder night will be different to all other nights and this Pesach will be one unlike any other.”

He added: “This list should be used when regular supervised products are not available, or for people who are older or in isolation and so are unable to go shopping themselves or have Pesach products delivered to their home.

All hand sanitizers have been approved for use on Passover, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Ian Kinsler, a former Major League All-Star, joins Israel’s national baseball team

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Ian Kinsler, a four-time Major League Baseball All-Star, has joined Israel’s national team and will play in the Summer Olympics next year in Tokyo.

Kinsler, 37, who retired from professional baseball after 14 seasons with five teams, played in three World Series, including for the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox.

He received approval for his Israeli citizenship late on March 6 and arrived in Israel a few days later, barely four hours before the deadline that would have required Kinsler and his wife to be quarantined for two weeks, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“Wearing Israel’s blue and white means more to me than just playing baseball,” he said in a statement. “It means representing a country, a religion and my roots. I can’t wait to get started.”

Israel is one of six national teams that will play in the Tokyo games. On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the Olympics scheduled for this summer will be postponed a year.

Moscow congregation told to self-isolate after synagogue’s rabbi gets coronavirus

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA)—The congregation of a Moscow synagogue has been placed under quarantine after one of its rabbis contracted the coronavirus.

Rabbi Gershon Lisus, 36, is in the hospital in stable but serious condition. He attended several communal events at the Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue, including a Purim party on March 8, the news site NG reported Sunday. The synagogue closed 10 days later because of the coronavirus.

Joseph Kogan, the senior rabbi at Bolshaya Bronnaya, reached out to inform his congregation of the situation earlier this week, the report said.

“We closed down the synagogue and asked people to go into self-isolation immediately,” Kogan told the news site.

He said Lisus did not travel abroad in the months leading to the outbreak of the pandemic. Several dozen people and their relatives have gone into self-isolation as a result.

Lisus’ wife, Dvora, in a Facebook post urged readers to pray for her husband and not underestimate what the virus can do to younger people who are infected.

She wrote that her husband is “a man in the prime of his life who never smoked a single cigarette, and he is in critical condition now due to lung damage.”

As of Tuesday, one person was reported to have died in Russia from COVID-19.

Jews make up 5 percent of coronavirus deaths in the UK

By Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA)—Nearly 5 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the United Kingdom are of Jewish people, who make up just 0.3 percent of the country’s population, The Jewish News of London reported.

According to the paper’s report Thursday, at least 22 Jewish families have lost loved ones to the disease, which has killed 465 people in the United Kingdom. The U.K. has about 66 million residents and 250,000 Jews.

Jewish community leaders in Antwerp, Belgium, last week predicted a significantly higher infection rate of 85 percent in their congregation than the 50-70 percent rate that scientists expect to find in the general population. The leaders cited the large social circles and interaction of the Jewish community.

Among the hardest-hit congregations in the United Kingdom has been the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi Community, which is based in northern London. It has lost four members in recent days, one of its rabbis told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Wednesday.

A man in his 70s who died was connected to the Edgware and Hendon Reform synagogue through his funeral, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

At least two rabbis of died of the disease: Yehuda Yaakov Refson, a senior rabbi in Leeds, was 73 when he died Sunday, and Zeev Willy Stern, a Holocaust survivor, was 86 when he died over the weekend.

Frieda Feldman, 97, died in London on Friday, the same day that she was diagnosed as having the virus, according to the Bhol news site.

Gal Gadot’s ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ theater opening postponed due to pandemic

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Even Wonder Woman can not defeat coronavirus.

“Wonder Woman 1984” star Gal Gadot announced on social media Wednesday that the debut of second installment of the superhero franchise will be postponed until Aug. 14.

“In these dark and scary times, I am looking forward to a brighter future ahead,” she wrote on Instagram. “Where we can share the power of cinema together again.”

The film had been scheduled to premiere June 5.

“When we greenlit ‘Wonder Woman 1984,’ it was with every intention to be viewed on the big screen and are excited to announce that Warner Bros. Pictures will be bringing the film to theatres on Aug. 14,” Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman, said in a statement, according to Variety. “We hope the world will be in a safer and healthier place by then.”

In addition to most movie theaters being closed, the coronavirus pandemic also prevents actors from traveling for premieres and to promote their films.

The first “Wonder Woman” film was the highest-grossing movie in the summer of 2017 with $412.5 million in the U.S. and $821.8 million worldwide. The sequel, in which Gadot reprises her role as Diana Prince, the Amazonian Princess Diana of Themyscira, was expected to be one of the highest-grossing movies of the year, according to Variety.

Another film starring a Jewish actress, “Black Widow,” with Scarlett Johansson in the title role, had its May 1 scheduled release delayed indefinitely.

Israel can track cellphones of citizens with coronavirus, its Supreme Court rules

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s Supreme Court will allow the country’s internal security agency to track the cellphones of Israelis who are infected with the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the court lifted an injunction against the practice approved last week by the government. The aim is to find where the infected person was and who he or she came into contact with in order to stem the spread of the virus.

Critics have said the tracking would infringe on civil liberties.

The court agreed to allow the surveillance by the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, after the Knesset convened and formed committees that would allow for oversight. But the justices said that if the parliament does not introduce legislation in the coming weeks allowing such surveillance, it would again place an injunction on the practice.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will review the practice on Thursday, The Times of Israel reported.

The court also ruled that police may use cellphone information to track Israelis who are supposed to be in quarantine to ensure compliance, though it suggested minimal usage.

Uniting in the coronavirus fight: 8 major Jewish groups team up to respond to pandemic

By Ben Sales

(JTA)—Eight major Jewish organizations have formed an emergency coalition to respond jointly to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group of communal fundraising and programming organizations, will lead a coalition that also includes umbrella groups for Jewish day schools, camps, community centers, campus Hillels and human service agencies.

The coalition will share resources, identify the scope of the disease’s impact on the Jewish community, lobby for private and public funding for struggling organizations, and help laid-off Jewish professionals.

Jewish organizational leaders have predicted that the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus could lead to significant layoffs and fundraising challenges for Jewish nonprofits.

“Working together and collectively we can achieve more than any one of us can do alone,” Mark Wilf, JFNA’s chairman, said in a statement. Wilf is a former board member of 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent company. 

Aside from JFNA, the coalition includes the Jewish youth group BBYO, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel International, the JCC Association of North America, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools and Moishe House, a network of homes that serve as community centers for Jewish young adults.

Last surviving German recognized by Yad Vashem as righteous gentile for Holocaust heroism dies

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—The last surviving German recognized as a righteous gentile for saving Jews during the Holocaust died on Monday.

Gertrud Steinl, who was recognized by Yad Vashem in 1979 as a Righteous Among the Nations, died a day before her 98th birthday.

Steinl’s death was confirmed to the German news agency dpa by Andre Freund, head of the Jewish community of Nuremberg, The Associated Press reported.

Release of Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Black Widow’ delayed because of coronavirus

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—Fans of Scarlett Johansson will have to wait a little longer to see the Jewish actress starring in “Black Widow.”

The film, which was scheduled to be released on May 1, has been delayed indefinitely because of the coronavirus, Deadline Hollywood reported.

In addition to most movie theaters being closed, the pandemic also prevents the stars from traveling throughout the country for movie premieres and interviews. Some films will go directly to streaming, according to reports.

Meanwhile, “Wonder Woman 1984,” starring the Israeli actress Gal Gadot, is still scheduled to be released in theaters on June 5. Warner Bros. confirmed to Indiewire that the film will have a “full theatrical run.”

Plenty of kosher for Passover food available, Orthodox Union certification agency says

By Marcy Oster

(JTA)—The supply chain for kosher for Passover food has not been disrupted by the coronavirus crisis, the Orthodox Union kosher certification agency said.

“Despite the long lines and panic shopping taking place at grocery stores around the country, there is an abundance of kosher food available for the upcoming holiday,” both in the United States and overseas, the O.U. said in a statement issued Monday.

“Kosher for Passover food products were produced at the end of the 2019 calendar year and shipped shortly thereafter,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the agency’s Kosher Division. “As a result, there will not be any problem accessing kosher for Passover products.”

“Additionally, food manufacturers are continuing to produce food during this time and we have been assured by our clients—including Manischewitz, Empire, Kedem and others—that there is plenty available and that there is no issue with food production for Passover.”

Israel’s Supreme Court orders Knesset speaker to reconvene parliament and schedule vote on his replacement

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must reconvene the parliament and schedule a vote on naming his replacement, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The decision by an extended five-judge panel gives Edelstein until Wednesday to schedule the vote. He was expected to respond to the Supreme Court directive later Monday evening.

Edelstein, who has served as speaker since 2013, adjourned the Knesset last Wednesday moments after it began meeting, citing the need for talks on a unity government. Critics called the action undemocratic.

On Monday, Edelstein opened a Knesset session for a vote on forming the Arrangements Committee, which oversees the formation and operation of the parliament. The Arrangements Committee is necessary to replace the speaker.

The Supreme Court lawsuit was filed by the Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz, who was tapped earlier this month by President Reuven Rivlin to form a coalition government.

Gantz, with a majority of parliamentarians supporting him, plans to choose a new speaker and then pass legislation that would prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to his post if the country goes to a fourth election.

Edelstein said the election of a new speaker could harm the chances for forming a new unity government. Meanwhile, his Likud party, to which Netanyahu also belongs, threatened to halt coalition talks if Edelstein is replaced.

At least 65 yeshiva students returning to Israel from Crown Heights test positive for coronavirus

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA)—More than half of a group of 114 students who returned to Israel from a yeshiva near the Chabad world headquarters in New York have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Hasidic students returned after the headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn was closed for the first time ever.

They were placed in quarantine after they arrived in Israel last week at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, which has been repurposed for quarantining citizens who have been exposed to coronavirus. The students who tested positive have been hospitalized in central Israel.

The Health Ministry is working to locate the 200 people aboard the flight who have been exposed to the virus and place them in quarantine.

There had been concerns at the outset of the flight since Crown Heights was the site of a large outbreak of coronavirus. The students told the Israeli media that they had been asked to sign an affidavit that they were not experiencing signs of illness and to the best of their knowledge had not come into contact with someone sick with coronavirus.

More than 1,200 Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus.


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