Rabbi Goldschmidt

Sefer Torah in Quarantine

As soon as news of the Corona pandemic reached our quiet corner of Kerala, India, we were immediately in touch the local authorities – the Synagogue which is open to the public as a museum and historical landmark throughout the week had to close immediately, however, Minyanim and Prayers could continue as normal. Over the weeks that changed as well, the state of Kerala began to close roads, markets, shops and other essential businesses – finally all Synagogues, Churches, Mosques, Temples and Ashrams had to close as well, we were stranded in India a few weeks away from Monsoon with a sense of deep uncertainty.

It was at this time that the Star-K Kashrut Authority stepped in to help to leave India and fly to London, England where I had family we could stay with until the restrictions were lifted. We flew from Kochi to Singapore and met with the Ben-Eli Family, Rabbi Shai and his wife Mayan had been placed by Midrash Sephardi in Kolkata to run the iconic Magen David Synagogue and to work for the Star-K throughout India and the Far-East.

When we arrived in the UK we were surprised that there was no health or temperature checks were performed and undertook quarantine protocols at my father’s house and stayed with him for Passover, before this he had been planning to join us at the Paradesi Synagogue and instead we joined him!

The weeks that we spent in the UK were enjoyable despite the quarantine and restrictions, we were able to have much-needed family time, as the weeks pressed on we realized that we would need to return to Israel to renew our visas for India in order to complete our Shlichut.

As we entered Israel we knew that there was a high possibility that we would be required to enter compulsory quarantine in a government-mandated hotel for 14 days, we applied to be exempted based on having small children and a having a private apartment where such a quarantine could be undertaken – however the law by then had changed and we accepted the conditions and moved into the hotel.

Despite a long list of rules and regulations given to us at the beginning of the stay, it was clear that the hotel was not really enforcing its policy and was depending of the guests to use their common sense and to wear masks and PPE. Although we were only mandated a 20-minute walk on the balcony twice a day, the reality was that many guests were staying outside for the majority of the day, many of the guests were families with young children and the balcony at least provided a space where the children could run and play. The Hotel staff stated implicitly if we did not maintain a proper distance and wear PPE the privilege of being outside for this time would be taken away.

During the first time we were allowed out we spoke to several other religious families and decided to make a Minyan (complying with all the quarantine regulations) – for many it was the first time many had been able to hear Baruchu and Kaddish in many months, it was a bright Monday afternoon in Jerusalem, an older man smiled at us through his mask and said the inspiring words “it’s a shame we don’t have a Sefer Torah, we have a Minyan!”.

My wife and I discussed it and I spoke with the manager of the Hotel, who was religious herself and it was decided that if the Sefer Torah could stay in our room (under Halachic conditions) and that the prayer service and public Torah reading would not disrupt the isolation conditions we had permission to do so.

I called Rabbi Shlomo Kassin at home and asked him for his assistance, he patiently listened to the details, asked questions as to how we would ensure that the Sefer Torah would be properly cared for and that the insurance details would not be infringed in any way – at the end of the conversation he wished us success and gave us words of Chizuk and Bracha.

The next day I received a phone call from the Hotel management, I was asked to come down to the front of the Hotel, receive the Sefer Torah and to return to my room immediately as it was not the scheduled time and soon lunch would be served by the hotel staff.

I walked through the Hotel to our room, prepared the Kriya Torah for Thursday.
The look of surprise on the faces of the guests of the Hotel as  we arrived for the daily Mincha on Thursday was equal to the elation and joy felt by all and the Hotel staff also stepped out to see and to enjoy the celebration, we prayed and then read from the Torah, the men said Birchat HaGomel.

On Shabbat, we were allowed to read in the morning and also to get together for Mincha prayers. It brought so much joy and simcha to all the guests and also the staff.

On the next Sunday the government decided to drop the enforced government quarantine in deference to self-isolation and we were informed that we would be leaving on Monday morning.

Just before we left the hotel the minyan got together for one last Kriyat Torah before we were released to self-isolation and we transported the Sefer Torah to a safe location in our apartment, as soon as we arrived several neighbors enquired about the Sefer Torah and asked if we could assist them with Kriyat Torah on the following Shabbat that we were released from quarantine and then finally returned her to the Yeshiva, Midrash Sephardi in the Old City of the Holy City of Jerusalem.