Rabbis Urge a Jewish Community Torn Between Tradition & Tech to Skip Gathering This Passover
Things seemed almost normal along the strip of Pico Boulevard near South Robertson, an L.A. intersection that has for decades become the center of Jewish life, especially Orthodox Jewish life. A man dressed for Shabbat walked purposefully through the quiet neighborhood this past Saturday. Others milled about visiting at a distance, or went for what appeared to be a stroll.
But this kind of scene in the age of coronavirus has set off a social-media firestorm in the community: Why are they out, and where are they going? With Passover just days away, some members of L.A.'s Orthodox Jewish community took to social media, upset over alleged secret prayer gatherings and underground efforts to celebrate the Sabbath and upcoming holiday in person. Some advocated that those who arrange these meetings along the Pico-Robertson corridor be turned into the police, according to messages and screenshots reviewed by dot.LA.
The Orthodox Jewish community is wrestling with a new era of religion, one in which people have flocked to online platforms like Zoom, live streaming social media, and pray.com for their religious needs. But that's a hard sell if you're Orthodox and strictly abide by Jewish law, which prohibits the use of electricity on Shabbat and holidays. Continued efforts to congregate in person led a rabbi at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to issue an urgent dispatch last week about "an alarmingly high ratio of Frum (Orthodox) patients among those that are positive for the disease."
In one of multiple Facebook posts on Sunday, community member Aryeh Rifkin, wrote: "If you hear about minyanim or gatherings (in person), post the names and addresses. Expose them. Don't be afraid to do the right thing. Weak leadership must be cut off especially finanically [sic]. If you have information and say nothing then you could be endangering lives."
Rifkin, who founded SKSI Plans and Permits and attended a neighborhood shul, has himself been fighting the novel coronavirus since March 18, and has been hospitalized twice because of it. One woman replied, saying her son was told by another person that he attended a community meal this past Friday with five other people. The woman did not respond to a request from dot.LA for more details. Others who did provide details were kicked out of groups and WhatsApp chains.
For weeks the debate over whether it is OK to meet has been ongoing on social media and in more private messages, as families and close-knit religious communities have tried to figure out how they will celebrate the upcoming holiday of Passover — which begins on Wednesday evening and lasts for eight days — amid the L.A. order to remain home unless for crucial necessities like food or medicine. Many in the heavily Persian-Jewish and Orthodox communities around Pico-Robertson are also ardent supporters of the Trump administration and have been slower to adopt distancing measures or believe in their necessity.
Such questions over whether ritual Passover meals, or Sedarim, could go forward, led the primary representative body of Orthodox Judaism in California, the Rabbinical Council of California, to put out a letter to rabbis and community outlets last week on this specific issue, according to a copy provided to dot.LA on Monday by Rabbi Avrohom Union, the rabbinic administrator of the RCC.
The letter noted that "all travel for any part of Yom Tov (the holiday) is forbidden, both for travel out of town or with family or friends locally."
Then, in bold, it stated that it's an absolute necessity and obligation under Jewish law, "to abide by government and health department restrictions. This is for our protection and the protection of everyone around us."
Rabbi Jason Weiner, the senior rabbi and director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, also sent out a letter to community rabbis last week urging people to stay home and practice social distancing. That letter ultimately ended up being circulated on Facebook among Jewish groups.
The Modern Orthodox B'nai David-Judea Temple on W. Pico Blvd.
The rabbi said in the letter that "we are entering the most intense period of the COVID-19 outbreak and an alarmingly high ratio of Frum (Orthodox) patients are among those that are positive for the disease."
Cedars-Sinai, which was originally founded as a Jewish hospital, is also the closest major hospital to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
"Avoid Shabbos walks with others - no backyard minyanim, even with physical spacing!" Weiner wrote. "No play dates for children - schools are closed for a reason; this causes great danger! No guests at the sedarim - this includes family members outside of the household. With regard to the Seders, it cannot be stressed enough that only family members already living together under the same roof and in close daily contact should have the seder together."
Passover is especially difficult this year for many because it is a religious holiday that celebrates the Jewish peoples' freedom from slavery in Egypt with a gathering over a festive and ritualistic meal. Children sing songs and families have traditions that are passed on from generation to generation.
The Orthodox community has been split on whether to allow technology to "count" as the requisite congregational prayer for Shabbat and festivals during this COVID-19 pandemic, with leading rabbis deciding that it is better to pray alone than to use forbidden technologies like Zoom during such holy days.
A ruling by Israel's chief rabbis last week stated that Jews cannot use technology to pray during religious holidays has left families split and more religious members to pray at home alone. That's despite an earlier decision by prominent Sephardic rabbis in Israel to allow such technology for the Passover Seder to allow for remote gatherings amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Many slammed that letter once it became public.
But that eschewing of technology may also be leading Orthodox families or those with more Orthodox members, to decide to meet in person. New York's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods saw a swift rise in coronavirus cases due to their continued gatherings for prayer, and many Jewish-American communities have taken it as a cautionary tale.
On Saturday, Rabbi David Wolpe, a senior rabbi at L.A.'s Sinai Temple — Southern California's oldest and largest Conservative congregation, whose congregation includes a large number of Persian Jews — dedicated his Zoom sermon to pleading to those in the congregation who had plans to gather for Passover (or Pesach, in Hebrew), to cancel those plans.
"It is my understanding that there are some people in our community who are going to have a Pesach Seder with lots of people in spite of the fact that they've been instructed not to," Wolpe said. "It is to them primarily I'm speaking now."
Wolpe, who was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, said he understands the pain of celebrating alone or through an electronic medium rather than collectively as a family.
"But I want you to know that anybody who invites people over to the Seder this year is violating Jewish law in the most serious way," Wolpe said, warning that while you may be fine, you or another invitee could be a vector for disease and devastating consequences.
"This is not the year to be a hero, this is the year to be a little afraid, this is the year to allow your intelligence and your concern and your empathy to override your ego," Wolpe said. "It is better to be sad, then to be sad and sick. It is better to be smart than to have made a decision that will haunt you the rest of your days."
Shabbat Sermon by Rabbi David Wolpe: A Passover Like No Other- 04/04/20 www.youtube.com
Conservative Jewish leaders have also grappled with how to hold services, but ultimately
decided to allow them to count because of a prevailing human need right now.
B'nai David-Judea, a modern Orthodox shul in the Pico-Robertson area, is using technology to facilitate prayer only during the weekdays and not on Shabbat or festivals. That includes having everyone gather together at a certain time to pray, even if they are alone in their home.
"We're living in a very painful time where people have a strong yearning to be close to each other and to be close to God and need to reach out for community," said Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn. "At the same time, the way in which we can be closest to each other and closest to God is by not showing up in person. And that's a spiritual tension that is jarring. That is very challenging for us to digest."
Thomas-Newborn said the synagogue has not been in the position of having to reprimand its congregants for trying to gather and has been repeatedly emphasizing the need for people to stay home.
For those who are in mourning — sitting Shiva — or observing the anniversary of a close family member's death, the inability to gather has been particularly difficult because of requirements that prayers are done with a certain number of congregants present. Zoom can help bring people together, but it doesn't "count" as if they were there.
"We've had people who have sat Shiva during this time," Thomas-Newborn said. "When they sit Shiva, we've done it on Zoom where people visit and see each other, provide words of comfort and condolence and share words of reflection."
The congregation has provided its members an alternate prayer for Kaddish, the mourners prayer, that can be said solo, instead.
Meanwhile, in Israel, a minyan of coronavirus patients who belong to Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement, have offered their services to recite the mourners prayer for those who are currently mourning or have an anniversary during this time via an online form anyone can fill in.
"Simply enter your info on this form, and Kaddish will be said on your behalf three times a day until Minyanim will be reopened around the world," the website states.
In an emotional video posted to Facebook at the end of March, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary who is in Beijing, China, spoke passionately about the need for people to stop gathering for a minyan, or congregational prayer, even if outdoors.
VIDEO 2020 03 27 18 18 44 www.youtube.com
Jewish law 'is full of the importance of a minyan," Freundlich said "Not when it comes to a pandemic. Not when peoples' lives are at risk. People are dying, but somehow people have to run to this minyan."
Freundlich noted that in Judaism, saving a life supersedes all other religious obligations, including observing the Sabbath -- and that includes requirements to gather with at least 10 adult men to pray.
"Therefore, I implore you to make sure that you don't do anything reckless or irresponsible because you want to, you feel like you want to do it," he said. "We need to be responsible. We are fighting an invisible enemy. Because you can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
For more on religion, technology and COVID-19, read this story and watch our virtual panel here. Reach out to me on Twitter @latams, where my DMs are open, email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my Signal.
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Coronavirus Updates: Disney Pitches Florida Re-Open; Valence's Push for Interns; Snap, LAUSD and Celebs Partner on Reading
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
- With internships cancelled, Valence tries to fill the void for young black professionals
- Florida is poised to open Disney World and SeaWorld. Will California be far behind?
- Snap and LAUSD promotes reading during COVID, with an assist from celebs like Alicia Keys
With internships cancelled, Valence tries to fill the void for young black professionals<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzMyNTkwMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTczNTE4M30.YVDJESMmCRibfFoEY82y4HiQci38rzJH1RKsJGlw_aE/image.png?width=980" id="7f574" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f541a00e8d17de6d806235c23444c2f4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Across the country aspiring young students have had their summer internships cancelled because of the pandemic, crushing dreams and muddying professional paths. It's been especially hard for communities of color, where some are the first in the family to go to college or where internships provide an entrance into a professional world.</p><p>Valence Enterprises Inc., a Santa Monica-based company that's developed a sort of LinkedIn for black professionals, is trying to offset the pain calling on their network of leaders and professionals to provide career advice. Their network of 7,000 individuals can talk on everything from Hollywood to venture capital to marketing. Indeed, the legion of young professionals seeking it will need that hand as they enter a world forever changed by the pandemic.</p><p>Many are already facing devastating family loss - as the coronavirus kills African Americans at three times that of white families. And job loss is concentrated in low-wage sectors where Black and Latino workers are seeing high unemployment. </p><p>The very wealth gap that Valence seeks to lessen is only <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/pandemics-poor-rich-economics-coronavirus-covid19/" target="_blank">expected to widen after the pandemic</a>. </p><p>Dubbing their efforts the "Boost Challenge," Valence is asking their network of more than 7,000 professionals to provide 30 minute one-on-one coaching sessions. "This is a chance to be coached by some really inspiring people that you otherwise wouldn't have direct access to," said Emily Slade, co-founder of Valence.</p><p>So far, they have gotten a buy in from the former chief marketing officer of Beats By Dre, and founder of Opus, Omar Johnson, to offer branding advice; Olympic medalist Michael Johnson will give partnership and sponsorship advice; and Boris Kodjoe, who founded the Full Circle Festival and is an actor and model, will offer his thoughts on the entertainment industry. Other participants include the chief marketing officer of Snap, Kenny Michell; Maisha C. Leek, a partner at Human Ventures; Derek Ali, a Grammy Award-winning mixing engineer; and Caroline Wang, chief culture, diversity and inclusion officer at Target Corp.</p><p>"As a tech platform and professional network focused on connecting the Black community with mentorship, job opportunities and capital,<a href="http://www.valence.community/" target="_blank"> Valence</a> is in a unique position to provide some support," said Kobie Fuller, the co-founder and a general partner at Upfront Venture. Valence has previously partnered with historically black colleges and universities, where students are reeling from the impacts of the pandemic.</p><p>An online survey by HBCUvc found among students at historically black colleges 62% lost their job due to COVID-19. The sample survey of 137 students by the nonprofit aimed at increasing opportunity in venture capital and technology also showed that among those 75% held a job while at school. </p>
Florida is poised to open Disney World and SeaWorld. Will California be far behind?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4ODI2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDkzNDcyNH0.-nX2hvzltOpH8ieuOf_ohBoNJM-JbXhshLlK4D1FW8M/img.jpg?width=980" id="d0ee6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79ab04e2418b271f2628e2786013b354" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Walt Disney World wants to reopen in weeks after the Orlando amusement park was shuttered as the pandemic spread, and the company's multi-tiered proposal might be a blueprint to how the Magic Kingdom will open the front gates of its Anaheim park. Other Florida parks are also unveiling proposals to do the same, which must be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis. </p><p>Disney plans a tiered reopening, with Disney World and Animal Kingdom opening on July 11, then Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.SeaWorld wants to open on June 11. And Universal Orlando presented its plan to reopen on June 5. That plan also has been approved by the Orlando task force, which sent its recommendation to the governor. "We are developing a series of 'know before you go' communication vehicles and our objective is to reinforce our health and safety messages to guests before they arrive on our property so they are aware and prepared for the new environment," Disney's senior vice president of operations, Jim McPhee, <a href="https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-05-27/walt-disney-world-park-reopening" target="_blank">told the task force.</a></p><p>Will the same re-opening plan soon be unveiled for California's version of the theme parks? <a href="https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-27/silicon-valley-health-officer-slams-faster-pace-of-california-coronavirus-reopening" target="_blank">The Los Angeles Times reported</a> that a key architect of the nation's first coronavirus shelter-in-place order is criticizing the state's <a href="https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-26/los-angeles-county-reopens-with-new-state-guidelines-while-city-allows-in-store-shopping" target="_blank">increasingly fast pace</a> of lifting stay-at-home restrictions. Dr. Sara Cody, health officer for Santa Clara County — home to Silicon Valley and Northern California's most populous county — said she was concerned by the decision to allow gatherings of up to 100 people for <a href="https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-places-of-worship.pdf" target="_blank">religious</a>, political and cultural reasons.</p>
Snap and LAUSD promotes reading during COVID, with an assist from celebs like Alicia Keys<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY1NzUwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTAxNDQ3N30.Ff-fzCnRnQLbhIXn1cyzX0YwGUwp8YwNWrif-9njEE4/img.jpg?width=980" id="34bce" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8bec468dda80a988ea00bd5388f3aa67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />c1.staticflickr.com<p>Snapchat and L.A. Unified School District are partnering to keep high school students reading books while the coronavirus pandemic keeps them from the classroom. On Wednesday, Snap launched a new original series titled <em>The A-List Book Club </em>on its Discover platform, which houses Snap-curated content for its young-skewing audience. The new series will showcase celebrities discussing a favorite book and what it means to them. </p><p>Participating celebrities, who will shoot the footage themselves, include Russell Westbrook, Alicia Keys, and Kendall Jenner. At the end of each episode, LAUSD students can swipe up to be directed to L.A. Unified's website, where they can enter their student credentials to receive a free digital copy of the book. Book donations are supported by L.A. Students Most In Need, a charity created to support students during this challenging time. </p><p>The series will also air on LAUSD's YouTube channel, as well as on Snapchat nationwide, but without the swipe up option. "Education creates opportunity, and we are excited to support public education and help create new ways to engage students in learning outside the structure of a classroom," said Evan Spiegel, Snap's co-founder and CEO. "We are inspired by working together with Los Angeles Unified to create resources for students to help them build the foundation for future success."</p>
Americans locked out of the workplace have been remaking their home offices by adding desks, plants and wall hangings. Some of it so that they look a little more slick on Zoom calls.
The new interest in a beautiful home office has been a boon to furniture services like Fernish, which sells itself as an affordable option to upscaling your home. The rental service recently closed on a $15 million Series A led by Kosla Ventures, alongside other top investors including Scott Cook (founder of Intuit), Eytan Elbaz (founder of Scopely), and Jeff Wilke (Amazon's CEO of Worldwide Consumer), and Spencer Rascoff (founder of Zillow and dot.LA).
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HBO Max, the new streaming service from AT&T's WarnerMedia, launches Wednesday. Advertised as the place "where HBO meets so much more", HBO Max will debut with over 10,000 hours of content from a range of brands including HBO, Warner Bros., Cartoon Network and Turner, with characters as diverse as Elmo and Tony Soprano. This marks a culminating milestone in AT&T's massive integration that began in 2016 when it agreed to acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion.
HBO Max users will be able to browse by "hub"
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