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Chicago Jewish community battered by 2nd wave of COVID is ‘pumping its brakes’

20 7 7
23.11.2020

JTA — When Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann and her colleagues gathered in a backyard earlier this month to sing together, they knew it would likely be the last time for the foreseeable future.

COVID-19 case counts in Chicago were rising sharply, and the mayor and governor warned that new restrictions would soon be necessary to curb the disease’s spread.

So the team at Mishkan, the nondenominational congregation that Heydemann leads, bundled up against the November chill to record dozens of Shabbat songs. Heydemann said she is hoping the recordings, deployed during virtual services, “will keep us warm through the winter” — one spent at home, alone.

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Like many places, Chicago is facing its most serious wave of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. This week, the city’s 7-day test positivity rate hit 16%, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this week that 1 in 18 Chicagoans had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the previous week. The city is confirming thousands of cases of COVID-19 daily, with many more in the northern suburbs where many of the area’s nearly 300,000 Jews live. Local Jewish leaders say there are hundreds of cases in the community, and the number of people hospitalized is increasing.

The situation bears a grim resemblance to the darkest days this spring in America’s largest Jewish community, New York, which was hit early and hard by the pandemic.

“In this second wave, we’re experiencing what we heard and feared that was going on at Pesach [Passover] time in New York,” said Rabbi Shaanan Gelman, rabbi of Kehilat Chovevei Tzion in Skokie and president of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, a local Orthodox rabbinical group. Illustrative: To create a pre-recorded online service, Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, center, and musicians and singers from Mishkan Chicago recorded the songs and prayers of the High Holidays in August. (Courtesy of See3 Digital Events/ via JTA)

A homegrown effort to trace cases within the city’s Orthodox population is struggling under the onslaught of new cases, and Jewish organizations are holding pop-up events to screen community members for COVID-19. But for now, local Jewish schools remain open, citing evidence that their protocols for containing the spread of the virus within their walls are working, even if students are getting sick elsewhere.

“The reopening plan in preparation was a significant undertaking,” said Addie Goodman, president and CEO of JCC Chicago, which operates seven early-childhood centers. “We do have confidence that we know how to operate in this environment.”

That confidence, which extends across many of Chicago’s Jewish institutions, comes from having successfully dealt with a handful of cases during the summer and fall.

“We’ve never had to close down any of our schools or any of our synagogues because of a........

© The Times of Israel


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