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March 11, 2020 3:18 pm
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Under Coronavirus Quarantine, New York Jewish Teens Have ‘Virtual’ Bar, Bat Mitzvah Celebrations

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A man walks past SAR High School which has been shut down due to Coronavirus in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, March 3, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Carlo Allegri.

A number of teenagers from a Jewish school in New York who have been quarantined at home due to the coronavirus have celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs by a live video stream.

Salantar Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy, a private Jewish day school in the Bronx, asked its 1,500 students in both the middle school and SAR High School to self-quarantine and closed its schools until at least March 11 after some students went to a bat mitzvah attended by a coronavirus patient.

Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, the principal of SAR Academy, said several students were scheduled to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs during the self-quarantine.

“We had, over the course of this weekend, one bar mitzvah and three bat mitzvahs for kids who were really disappointed that they aren’t going to be able to celebrate,” Krauss said, according to Yahoo Lifestyle. “We were just thinking about what we could do for them, specifically, and my wife suggested we try to do a virtual bar mitzvah.”

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SAR Academy student Joseph Hershkowitz, 13, had his virtual bar mitzvah on March 5 through Zoom, the video conference platform the school was already using for online teaching.

Hershkowitz read his bar mitzvah Torah portion to about 250 people who attended virtually while Krauss officiated over video, and afterward Hershkowitz’s parents blessed their son.

“We got this boy a Torah scroll into his home,” Krauss said. “And everyone really came together very quickly, and we sent them some food for the family, whoever was able to be [at their home].”

Krauss has also helped coordinate three bat mitzvahs, including one for Jordana Shmidman, who had to cancel her party and instead celebrated in her family’s living room. On Monday, Shmidman and her parents dressed up and she read from the Megillah against a backdrop of decorative items originally meant for her bat mitzvah party. “At least 300, maybe 400 people” watched Shmidman via a live video stream, said her father, Yehuda Shmidman.

Jordana noted she was sad to miss celebrating this milestone in her life in the customary manner, explaining, “I was really upset but then I realized that it’s much better because everyone’s healthier and it’d be fun.”

Her mother, Rebecca, added, “Jordana’s friends made her an amazing video for her bat mitzvah, which is really incredible.Thank god most people are healthy, and we can be happy together and celebrate life’s milestones.”

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