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March 16, 2020 9:48 am

Jewish Organizations Rally Behind Italian Jews in Wake of Complete Shutdown Due to Virus

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Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog speaks during the Public Forum Conference on Nov. 15, 2018. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90. – Amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis in Italy, which has brought the country to a virtual standstill, prominent Jewish organizations continue to engage the Jewish community there.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog and Chairman of Keren Hayesod Sam Grundwerg met on Thursday with the prominent Jewish leaders in Rome and Milan to voice their solidarity with those affected, a press release stated.

“The community leaders described the challenges and threats they are facing, and their immediate needs,” the statement read. “Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted the entire world. Italy, which is currently on lockdown, has been particularly hit hard and is experiencing a death toll of hundreds of people,” said the Jewish Agency.

The president of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Durgello, said the community is worried, but sounded an upbeat note: “We are a proud and ancient community in the midst of the worst situation we have faced since World War II,” she said. “We are in a state of complete uncertainty. We are trying to stabilize the situation but there is tremendous anxiety here about the danger of a complete collapse. General morale is very low. We know there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we don’t know how long the tunnel is.”

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With a population of some 15,000, Rome is home to the oldest Jewish community in the world.

President of Milan’s Jewish community, Milo Hasbani, added: “Our schools and nursing homes have been shut for three weeks. We are organizing various support channels to help community members, especially elderly people who are in quarantine and can’t go food shopping. We are setting up distance learning for the children, investing in disinfectants and preparing the community’s security team for any scenario.”

“Expressing solidarity with Jews around the world and Italian Jewry in particular, Herzog and Grundwerg penned a letter (attached) stating that ‘All of Israel is responsible for one another,’ and that the organizations are teaming up to pledge their support during this difficult time,” the Jewish Agency said in a statement.

Herzog later said that he “had emotional conversations with the leaders of the Jewish communities of Italy, which are small and comprised of a relatively large number of elderly people who are encountering a challenge the likes of which they have not faced since the Holocaust.”

He added: “We have set up a special team to immediately analyze their most urgent needs, and together with Keren Hayesod we will work to help the community as quickly as possible. I urge our parallel Jewish organizations and Jewish communities worldwide to mobilize, given the extent of the need.”

The Jewish Agency further said that it was “working on assisting the community on three levels to meet their needs: assisting nursing homes; setting up distance-learning infrastructure for children and teachers who are quarantined; and helping the communities set up a hotline to help those in quarantine.”

A special team led by Shay Felber, director of the Jewish Agency’s Unit for Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations, and Alex Kerner, Karen Hayesod’s emissary in Italy, will focus on provisions.

“It is always comforting to know that Israel is with us,” said Hasbani, “and especially the Jewish Agency and the assistance it provides.”

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