3d print of the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Flickr CC BA 2.0)
3d print of the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Flickr CC BA 2.0)

Bay Area Jewish orgs respond to coronavirus: Israel trips canceled, but wait and see on local steps

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We are covering the coronavirus’ effects on the Bay Area Jewish community on an ongoing basis. Check here for our full coverage. If you have local coronavirus news tips, email [email protected].

4:21 p.m.

Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills today officially canceled a mid-March trip to Israel and Greece. As of Friday, no refunds were being made to the 40 or so people who had signed up. About a dozen of the travelers were making plans to go to Greece on their own. Seven Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

“It’s so upsetting,” said Sandra Spector, one of the disappointed travelers. She and her husband together paid $10,000 for the canceled trip.

Beth Am executive director Rachel Tasch said synagogue leaders “consulted with several physicians, including a specialist in infectious diseases and another who works for the CDC. All expressed serious concern about a group like ours undertaking nonessential international travel at this time.”

Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto said in a message to families that staff members were “monitoring the situation in the cities where class trips take place,” but had no plan to cancel any at this time.

The K-8 Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City said it was postponing an eighth-grade trip to Israel; the group was scheduled to leave on Sunday. It will now be rescheduled to the end of April or beginning of May.

12:17 p.m.

On Friday morning, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto sent a community-wide email about the virus, saying the center would stay open unless directed otherwise by health officials. The notice also said the JCC would be increasing the cleaning and disinfecting of workout equipment and training staff on hygiene practices.

Congregation B’nai Shalom of Walnut Creek also sent an email urging congregants to stay home if they are feeling sick and to show affection through fist bumps instead of kissing, hugs and handshakes.

9:56 a.m.

Coronavirus is sending shockwaves across global markets, Vice President Mike Pence is officially the disease’s czar, California has a mysterious new case, and a Centers for Disease Control guide from 2017 on how to wear a face mask with a beard has resurfaced.

While that last one could cause concern among some rabbis, the Bay Area Jewish community is taking a relatively measured approach to the virus scare. J. contacted eight synagogues, and none had imminent plans for extreme measures like canceling services or group activities.

Representatives at most synagogues said they were encouraging congregants to increase handwashing and stay home if they were feeling sick. Four said they had staff meetings where the topic came up.

Rabbi Niles Goldstein of Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa said an April trip to Israel with congregants is currently on hold.

“We’re trying to be vigilant,” Goldstein said, “have a wait and see attitude.”

Rabbi Beth Singer of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco said her synagogue was going to put hand sanitizer stations around the building. And on Shabbat, after saying Hamotzi, the blessing over bread, presliced pieces of challah will be passed out, instead of each person ripping off a piece and handing it to the next person.

“Our primary focus is on not feeding hysteria but taking precautions as we get our updates from the CDC,” Singer said.

Esther Tiferes Tebeka, a Jewish Palo Alto resident who was quarantined for two weeks at a Southern California military base at the beginning of February, said she is healthy and in good spirits after reuniting with her family. Tebeka, who is from Wuhan, the city in China the where coronavirus originated, said she spent an extra week in self-quarantine at home before returning to work.

However, as an herbalist and acupuncturist, Tebeka said it took about a week before her business returned to normal. She suspected the slow-down was caused by people’s discomfort being around someone who had recently traveled to China.

The first U.S. case of coronavirus where the individual did not come into contact with another known infected person was confirmed in Solano County yesterday. According to a whistleblower complaint obtained by the New York Times, staff members at two California military posts, Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, did not receive proper medical training or protective gear after interacting with quarantined individuals.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.