How many Jews have died of coronavirus in the USA?

As I look at the numbers, I also remember the personal loss of people I knew.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin. ,

Rudomin
Rudomin
צילום: INN: R.R

How many Jews have died from the Coronavirus in the USA? This is a question that is never openly asked and studiously avoided. Why? If you live in America, as I do, it should be a very basic question, to know exactly what is going on around you. After all, doesn’t knowing this bolster the case of those who take it seriously, and counter the what-me-worry attitude of those who are ignoring social distancing?

I just read an article claiming that Orthodox rabbis cannot agree on how and if to resume prayer Minyanim. Wouldn’t it help them decide if they could measure the scope of the tragedies around them? It would bring home the level of severity of this health crisis for those slacking off, and bring us face to face with the enormity of the losses American Jewry has suffered and confirm our need to mourn for the victims, particularly in Orthodox-Haredi-Hasidic-Sefardi circles in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan areas that have tragically been hit hard, and still are suffering.

In Israel, the Jewish homeland where the situation was under control and is evidently improving, there is an exact count of Jews who have passed away from the Coronavirus. Reports say that of the almost 300 victims who have passed away, about 70% are from the Haredi sector. Recently there were news reports that in France between 1,000 to 2,000 French Jews have succumbed to the Coronavirus. In the
The situation in the USA is most serious. As of May 2020 in America almost 100,000 people died of Covid-19 and probably thousands of Jews in areas of Jewish concentration, but Jewish people are afraid to know the real numbers!
United Kingdom, the British Jewish Board of Deputies keeps track of the number of Jews in Britain who have passed away, now approaching about 400. There was a report in an Israeli Haredi news source Pesach time 2020 that about 700 Orthodox Jews in the United States passed away from the Coronavirus. That was a report from Israel. It was not widely known, let alone reported in the USA.

In America it is possible to Google “how many Americans have died from the coronavirus” and there are immediately detailed reports of the number of dead, infected, recovered overall and state by state. At the time of this writing, May 2020, the official figure of those who have died in America from Covid-19 is approaching 100,000! More than 20,000 in New York State and about 10,000 in New Jersey. No one is hiding the truth from anyone, but not so in the Orthodox world.

From time to time various Haredi-run news sites and newspapers in America will report names of prominent people such as rabbis and well known community leaders who have died. One English language Haredi newspaper published an unofficial short list of names of mostly prominent people, but it was in no way comprehensive. There is one yeshiva type news site that used to publish names of those who had passed away over short periods, but they discontinued doing that after some people found it to be “too disturbing”.

I cannot help but compare the war we are waging against this malicious virus to the Holocaust. Although numerically there is no comparison, thank G-d, imagine if people found it “too disturbing” to hear how many Jews perished in the Holocaust, or how many died in various camps and ghettos in towns connected with survivors? If it is not “too disturbing” to “never forget” the Six Million victims of the Holocaust, so why is it “too disturbing” to be kept informed and made aware, and mourn for the victims of the Coronavirus?

Maybe we ought to institute a special dedicated Tefilla (prayer) at this horrible time? Something that all rabbis can agree on and advise their followers to say daily or at special times. There are scattered virtual prayer meetings on the phone and online but nothing is coordinated. It’s every group for themselves.

There are Tehillim lists (for saying Psalms) for people who are seriously ill from Covid-19 and some are battling for their lives. There are lists published online. My wife has kept a growing list of those in need of a Refuah Sheleimah (complete recovery), sadly every week there is invariably another name or two of those who have succumbed.

What does this avoidance and lack of critical information reveal? There are a number of possibilities:

  • The most basic reason given is that the various government authorities in the United States do not monitor or count victims by religion. Fair enough. A non-Jewish government is not obligated to do this. But why shouldn’t Jewish organizations, academics and communities do that? Many a Jewish study, or study of Jews, has published reports of all sorts of detailed facts. Many community organizations have the staff and capability of keeping count of everything from homeless, to jobless, and numbers of students in Jewish school and yeshivas, so why not keep tabs of those who have fallen victim to the Coronavirus crisis in the midst of the crisis itself?

  • Fear and denial of reality. American Jews, like Americans generally are sunny-side-up positive thinkers, and they don’t like dealing and confronting the “D” word.

  • The splits and schisms between the various communities are a basic reason. Each group, such as the Yeshivish world, in Lakewood and Flatbush, the Hasidim are divided between each other. Satmar doesn’t know what goes on in Lubavitch, Boro Park doesn’t know what goes on Flatbush, Monsey and Kiryas Joel are worlds apart, Sefardim live a life apart from Ashkenazim, life in the Five Towns is split off from life in Lakewood, not to mention that the Haredi world is cut of from the Modern Orthodox world, and the Orthodox world is isolated from the secular Jewish world in America. So news, or lack thereof, about Jewish victims of the Coronavirus is a reflection of the socio-economic, cultural, geographic, and religious splits that exist on the ground.

  • Lack of any central body to do the job, like the Israeli government in Israel or the Board of Deputies in Britain. But this is not totally true because each large grouping in America has its centralized bodies and its official or unofficial information arms. There is the OU and the RCA, that keeps track of lots of things when they need to. There is the Agudah with its multiple branches with professionals who can dig up figures to argue any case in need. Satmar and Lubavitch have central rabbinical and communal organizations with powerful bureaucratic reach, all these could at least keep track of the numbers in their communities who have passed away that would help the living measure the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to continue with precautionary measures. It should not be too difficult for Yeshiva University and Touro College, both under Orthodox auspices, to find expert sociologists and analysts to compute the number of Coronavirus casualties in America.

  • Bottom line, the reality is that the Jewish people is as disunited during this time as it is in “the real world”. There is nothing now of the spirit in the Jewish world such as when Israel went through the 1967 Six Day War. Do you know how many Jews died in the Six Day War? Look it up. About 800. And how many Jews have died from the Coronavirus? In Israel almost 300, in Britain about 400, in France 1,000 to 2,000, and in America, let’s say not less than in France, so that is another 1,000 to 2,000 or more. More victims than the 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 attacks (obviously they were not all Jews either, but we know exactly how many died and their names have been memorialized in print and their names carved in stone in the 9/11 Memorial. Our current numbers of dead Jews is a lot for one Mageifa (plague) in LESS than three months, since March 2020. And yet, the Jewish leadership and media in America ignore stating the obvious facts and making everyone aware of the scope of this modern-day plague in our midst.

Remembering Personal Losses of Personalities I have Known.

Since everyone in the Orthodox-Haredi-Hasidic world knows either close relatives, close neighbors and friends or prominent rabbis and rebbetzins who have died from the Coronavirus, I would like to take some time to write about a few people that I knew either closely or from afar, who succumbed to Covid-19. I made a short list of people I knew, not in any particular order, and I have, so far, eleven names of Corona-Holocaust victims who one can probably say died Al Kiddush HaShem (for the sanctification of God’s Name), in the sense that a Tzadik Mechaper Al HaDor, (the righteous atone for the generation) as nothing less can describe their tragic untimely deaths. They range in age from the 60s to the 90s but they were all well-beloved and in some cases famous people, but each and every one of them was a Tzadik, a righteous person, as many can vouch:

  • Rabbi Dr. Moshe Homnick was a brilliant and unique Talmid Chochem. For a livelihood he practiced as a psychologist. He lived most of his life near the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin community in Brooklyn and a few years ago moved to Lakewood, New Jersey. I recall his passionate dancing in the presence of his Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner at Seu Shearim on Simchas Torah when the Torah scrolls would be returned to the Aron. Anyone who was there will never forget how Rabbi Homnick’s eyes beamed rays of light as he held the Torah aloft and pumped up the frenzied dancing crowds as he yelled “O-Ho”! He was a real dynamo and completely immersed in his love and passion: Torah learning and teaching it when he was invited to in various places.
  • Mrs. Miriam Homnick was the wife of Rabbi Moshe Homnick and she passed away a short while before her husband. She was totally devoted to her husband and I recall her role in acting as a Shadchante (matchmaker) in one case where I knew the couple. She not only introduced the couple but she cared about every aspect making sure that the bride and groom were happy with every detail.
  • R’ Boruch Gelfand was a practicing attorney but spent almost all his spare time learning Torah. I spent many summers praying at the same bungalow colony where Mr. Gelfand was the main organizer. He was a lively Baal Tefila (prayer leader) and on Shabbos Nachamu he would lead the dancing in the Shull. I would also see him at night in Flatbush learning with his Chavrusas (learning partners) and at night Seder in yeshiva together with the regular students. He was recently honored by the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn for his service and dedication to learning Torah and to the yeshiva he attended in his youth.
  • R’ Ovadia Simha was a close friend of Boruch Gelfand and I knew him in the same way, from the summer and seeing him learn at night in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin during night Seder. He was a public school teacher by profession but his entire being was immersed in Torah learning. In the Summers at Sun Valley Bungalow Colony in Monticello, NY, on Shabbos afternoon he would give one of the profoundest Shiurim (classes) in Hashkafa (Jewish philosophy) that I have ever experienced.
  • R’ Shmuel (Alex) Hoch was a Holocaust survivor who lived on the next block to where I live in Flatbush and we Davened (prayed) in the same Shtiebel (synagogue). He was always early, prayed with fervor, and had great pride in being able to speak Hebrew and was often surrounded by someone who wanted to know about his past life experiences. He had great Derech Eretz (good manners) and one thing I noticed about him was that he did not just say Good Shabbos on Shabbat to the rabbi but during the week, every night he would say “A Gutte Nacht Rebbe” (good night) to the rabbi. A happy, polite, confident, independent man who was the first coronavirus victim in my synagogue.
  • Rabbi Avraham (Abe) Brook was a passionate Lubavitcher hassid who moved onto my block about fifteen years ago. I would see him frequently and chat with him. He was an Israeli, of rabbinic lineage, and had served as a chaplain in the Israeli Army during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He told me he was traumatized by what he experienced and after that decided to move to America, where he took great care of his sick wife. He was a butcher by trade but when I knew him he was mostly retired. He was like the “assistant rabbi” in the Shtiebel on the block. He would collect the Seforim, and would Daven (pray) any Haftora on Shabbos (readings from the Prophets) on the turn of a dime with no preparation. As a good Chabadnik he reached out to everyone in the Shul and became close with many. He told me that he longed to return to Israel and live in Kfar Chabad, but due to his wife’s illness he was persuaded to move closer to family in Lakewood, New Jersey about a year ago. That is where he caught the Coronavirus and passed away very suddenly.
  • HaRav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel of America, was a perennial and constant prominent personality in the Agudah world in America. As a young Bochur he had learned in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and became a close disciple of the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yitzchok Hutner, When I was a student in that yeshiva many decades later I recall Rav Perlow coming to one of Rav Hutner’s Yom Tov Ma’amarim and how Rav Hutner and everyone was in awe of his presence. I met him and spoke with him a few times over the years and he was intimately concerned about any person’s and any institution’s needs and priorities. His passing came as a shock because only a few weeks prior to his passing he famously issued a warning on videotape to people to be warned about the dangers of the Coronavirus. He was a master orator, a dynamic leader, and a huge Torah scholar and author of many deep Torah books, known as Adas Yaakov. He leaves a gaping hole in the leadership of the Torah world.
  • Rav Yisroel Plutchok, Rosh Yeshiva of Derech Chaim Yeshiva in Brooklyn. I met Rav Plutchok a few times and he was a very dynamic personality. He opened his yeshiva to boys and young men who might not have fit into other yeshivas and made them into regular yeshiva students. He was a self-made Torah scholar who built others up as he had built himself up. He died at the height of the crisis around Pesach time and it came as a great shock to all who knew him.
  • Dr. Mark Respler was a famous urologist in Brooklyn. I had been in his offices and he was a devoted doctor and a proud frum Jew beloved by members of the Flatbush and Boro Park communities that he worked in. He was a very happy and jovial type of person. His wife Yael is a famous psychologist and both Dr. and Mrs. Respler served the Jewish community selflessly for many decades. Losing such a valuable member of society leaves a great void.
  • Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Rubin the Sasregen Rebbe of Flatbush was a Holocaust survivor and author a unique Sefer about all verses of Tanach in the Talmud. Everyone in Flatbush knows about the Sasregen Shull with its Minyanim and Daf Yomi and other Shiurim. There are many Romanain and Hungarian Jews in Fltabush who are not hassidic but they keep their ties with a Rebbe such as Rabbi Rubin. He was descended from great Hassidic dynasties and his family married into the dynasties of Bobov and Satmar. He survived the Nazis, but did not make it through the war against the Coronavirus.
  • R’ Noach Dear was a beloved communal figure in Brooklyn. For many years he was a New York City councilman and in recent years he was elected to be a judge in New York’s high court. I met him a few times and was impressed by his care and concern for the underdog. He was fearless in fighting for Jewish causes. He always consulted with the greatest rabbis, and I recall seeing him about a year ago coming to talk with Rav Dovid Feinstein the Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Tiferet Yerushalayim. His loss hit close to home in other ways because his brother is the owner of a pharmacy that we use and another one of his brothers lived on our block for many years and we got to know the family quite well. His sudden death from Coronavirus came as shock to many people. He is probably the highest profile Jewish public figure in America to pass away at this time.

These are names of unknown and famous people alike. The war waged by and against the Covid-19 pandemic is a real war. And just like in real wars there are all types of people who die on the front-lines and casualties are counted and noted and a record is kept, and eventually even memorials are built for them, the same should apply now during the Coronavirus crisis. There is no one in the American Orthodox-Haredi-Hasidic-Sefardi worlds who has not felt the impact of the Corona war. As in my case, I can list a Minyan of men and even women who have passed away, close to home, and close to the heart, likewise everyone can name names and even has close family that has succumbed.

May the memory of those who have passed away from Covid-19 be for a blessing, may Hashem remove this plague from us soon, and may we hear only good news in the future.

Rabbi Rudomin is president and founder of the Jewish Professionals Institute. An alumnus of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and Teachers College, Columbia University, he has dedicated his life to Jewish outreach and education, served for 7 years as full-time director of Sinai Heritage Centers in Manhattan and 3 as an AJOP trustee, .among many oher endeavors.




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