Monday, 30 Mar 2020 - 5 of Nisan, 5780

Jerusalem archive reveals how community dealt with previous disease outbreaks

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The documents focus on the quarantine and communal response to a Cholera outbreak in 1902.  In one letter dated the 3rd of Cheshvan sent by a Colel Chabad emissary to philanthropic contacts around the world, the author writes “…and so in addition to the fears and anxieties, and apart from the extra expenses the government has imposed on every individual regarding hygiene, there is now a severe famine because the roads have been closed and we are in quarantine.

With public healthcare experts describing the current Coronavirus outbreak as a crisis of historic proportions, an archive of documents from early 20th century Jerusalem reveals how the then tiny population confronted a previous epidemic. 

The archive is housed in an exhibit at the Pantry Packers Food Preparation facility in Jerusalem and is maintained by the Colel Chabad organization, founded in 1788 by the Alter Rebbe, the first rabbi of Lubavitch. The organization is known as the longest continuously running charity in the holy land.

Rabbi Menachem Traxler who manages the archive said, “These documents provide a startling glimpse into how the Jerusalem community generations ago came together in a spirit of charity and how that as much as things have changed, the increased need for charity in times of crisis remains much the same.”

The documents focus on the quarantine and communal response to a Cholera outbreak in 1902.  In one letter dated the 3rd of Cheshvan sent by a Colel Chabad emissary to philanthropic contacts around the world, the author writes “…and so in addition to the fears and anxieties, and apart from the extra expenses the government has imposed on every individual regarding hygiene, there is now a severe famine because the roads have been closed and we are in quarantine. And one cannot appraise the extent of compassion needed for the poor in the Holy Land… and so we ask his honor to arouse the hearts of our brethren to add a new contribution to help the hungry… may G-d have mercy…”

“It is both eye-opening and encouraging to read these letters,” says Rabbi Traxler.  “On the one hand they show the extent that a disease can have on our community, but the fact that the land of Israel, the Jewish community and the availability of technological advances have grown so much since that time provides us with the confidence that just as we survived then, we will overcome this crisis as well. But it will once again require that we come together and recognize the needs of so many people who are suffering due to the hardships imposed by this disease.”

According to Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Director of Colel Chabad and their national network of soup kitchens, the organization has had to completely overhaul their operations.  “People are unable to come to us and eat in our facilities so we have had to completely transfer to take-away and delivery options to the elderly and needy,” he explains.  “In addition, the sad reality is that many people who are in service industries are being hammered financially so we are getting more and more requests for support.  But our tradition and history show that we have confronted many challenges in the past and with God’s help and the support of people all over the world, we will do everything possible to get through this time.”

 

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