Rivlin to world Jews:
‘Now more than ever, we are one family’

President to world Jewish leaders: No plague can break the chain that stretches back to the exodus from Egypt and binds our people together.

Orli Harari ,

Rivlin speaks with Britain's Chief Rabbi
Rivlin speaks with Britain's Chief Rabbi
Mark Neiman/GPO

Ahead of the Passover holiday, which will be under the shadow of the global coronavirus pandemic this year, President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday spoke with leaders from around the Jewish world in a video-conference call.

Participants in the call, held in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, included former New York City Council Member and current CEO of the Jewish Metropolitan Council on Poverty (Met Council) Rabbi David Greenfield and Angela Buchdahal of Central Synagogue in New York; president of the UCEI, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni; Mary Kluk, National President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and World Jewish Congress Vice-President; from Britain, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; Lebana Pankar INDIA ; Sidney Klajner, President of the SBIBAE welfare organization and Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Brazil; and Robert Ejnes, Director of the CRIF, the French Jewish community’s umbrella organization. Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac (Boujie) Herzog also participated in the call.

The president wished the representatives of the communities a Chag Sameach, saying “The Passover Seder meal is built on the Jewish value of mutual responsibility. We begin the seder by declaring ‘all those in need are invited into our homes.’ Jewish communities all over the world have come together to meet this crisis and help those in need.”

“This Passover will be very different from all other Passover holidays. Rather than gathering with family and friends, we will all follow the guidelines for social distancing. Despite this, our values of mutual responsibility and of passing on our traditions from generation to generation, will continue. No modern-day plague can break the chain that stretches back to the exodus from Egypt and binds our people together. Now more than ever, I feel that we are one family, with a shared history, shared values and a shared destiny,” said the president at the end of his remarks, asking to hear from the participants in the call about what was happening in their communities in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

British Chief Rabbi Mirvis said, “Our Torah is the Book of Life. It requires us to choose life and so we must all act responsibly and follow the instructions of our government in order to protect everyone’s lives. We see a rising tide of hate speech around us, and at times like these we must all remember that every human was created in God’s image and behave accordingly.”

“There are also rays of light in the dark clouds above us. Mutual responsibility, of each of us for our fellows and concerns about our environment. We must all remember that this, too, will pass,” added Rabbi Mirvis.

Noemi Di Segni, president of UCEI in Italy, thanked the president and said, “the connection with the State of Israel fills us with strength. We face greater challenges as a Jewish community ahead of Pesach, but we are addressing them. The assistance of the Jewish Agency helps a great deal and we are hoping to celebrate the holiday properly, even with the restrictions.”

Robert Ejnes, Executive Director of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), shared, “The Jewish community in France has, unfortunately, been hit hard in these days of crisis. We are dealing with the situation with courage and bravery. The synagogues were closed almost immediately, and we are taking care of the community and contact between us using the available technology. We are holding daily meetings for the leadership of the Jewish community and trying to get to everybody to make sure that they understand the instructions and that they are taking care of themselves. Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in antisemitic incidents as well as many conspiracy theories, and we are fighting in this field as well.”

“There is no Jewish community in New York that has not experienced cases,” said CEO of the Met Council Rabbi David Greenfield. “We feel as if we are once again in Egypt, in the spirit of these days. We have also moved to community management that is totally online. Shiurim, sermons and Hebrew lessons. We are trying to bring Torah to everyone who want it. In our communities, there are many Jewish doctors. They are on the front line of developments in the fight against the virus, and we are very proud of them.”

The president asked Angela Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York about the antisemitic incidents in her area, and she answered that the community is suffering greatly from antisemitic incidents on the streets, but mainly on television and social networks, and that they are doing everything possible to fight back against them.

Mary Kluk, National President of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and World Jewish Congress Vice-President, said “as well as the corona, we are facing many mental health problems resulting from long isolation, and from serious infrastructure problems such as electricity. The opportunity to be together with you is light in these difficult days and I want to thank you for it on behalf of the Jewish community of South Africa.”

Sydney Klajner, President of the SBIBAE welfare organization and Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Brazil, added, “The community has moved online. We are telling all institutions to stay closed and that is what did from a very early stage in the spread of the disease. We are ready to hold the Seder online and we hope it will allow us to feel close, even in these days of isolation. That is how we feel thanks to this call with you, and thank you for the opportunity.”

Lebana Pankar, chair of the young Jewish Indian organization and member of the Board of the Indian Jewish Federation spoke about the great ‘Exodus from India’ that has happened with Israeli backpackers leaving and returning home. Speaking of the efforts made to ensure this, she said, “we are full of pride about the flight that left here to return home. Like our friends around the world, we have closed all community organization and we are trying to create as many shared activities that people can join from home. Technology helps us with this a great deal and we continue to receive messages from people that we appreciate and respect very much. This is the first year I will not participate in the communal Seder, but the wonderful people of Chabad have made sure we all have wine and matzah.”

At the end of the conversation, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac (Boujie) Herzog said, “Thank you, Mr. President, on behalf of the entire Jewish word, for your warm words which bring our brothers and sisters across the sea closer to us at this time. The Jewish people around the world is dealing with an enormous challenge. This Passover, the Jewish heart will beat in Israel and in the global Jewish community and there is no greater moment to demonstrate the mutual commitment that exemplifies our people.”

According to figures from Israeli embassies and consulates to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more than 200 members of the French Jewish community have died of coronavirus, 12 members of the Italian Jewish community and four in Brazil. In addition, as of today, 90 members of the British Jewish community have contracted the virus and 25 in South Africa.