Everyone who was at the Beth Chabad community centre and synagogue from March 14 has been asked to go into self-isolation after three confirmed cases of COVID-19 were traced to that place in Côte St-Luc, Que.
The three infected people have been in quarantine since March 16, the synagogue announced publicly on March 19.
A fourth person with the disease confirmed in that city lives at the King David Residence, a seniors’ assisted living facility.
In an announcement, the City of Côte St-Luc said it was informed by public health authorities on March 19 that the patient had been transported to the Jewish General Hospital two days earlier.
On March 17, Côte St-Luc declared a state of emergency citing particular concern for the 30 per cent of its population that are seniors, and the return of large numbers of snowbirds from Florida and elsewhere outside of the country. It also has numerous religious institutions, seniors’ residences and care institutions and a generally dense population.
By March 18, all synagogues in Côte St-Luc had agreed to stay closed until further notice, according to the city. That’s when Premier François Legault asked that all houses of worship in the province shut down and urged such events as weddings and bar mitzvahs be postponed and funeral attendance by strictly limited.
“Santé Publique has intervened quickly to help reduce the impact and spread. This involves an investigation into the places the individual travelled outside and their interactions inside the building,” Côte St-Luc said in a statement on the news about the King David resident.
The city said it was only made aware of the cases traced to Beth Chabad on the evening of March 19 through an online posting by the congregation.
It reiterated that anyone returning from outside the country must self-isolate at home for 14 days – meaning within their apartment or condo unit – and urged everyone to avoid gatherings of any kind and any non-essential outings, such as hairdresser appointments.
“Over the past few days, I have received emails and calls from residents who say that some returnees are not staying at home,” posted Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “This is unacceptable behaviour. Anyone acting this way is putting others in danger.”
He also urged “everyone to rethink how their Passover seders will take place.”
Coun. Mike Cohen blogged that Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, spiritual leader of the Shul of Bal Harbor, a large synagogue in the Miami, Fla., area that Montreal snowbirds may frequent, has tested positive for COVID-19.
“This is another example of why all of our snowbirds must self-isolate the moment they return. Do not go to the grocery store or a common laundry room … Any one of you can become a super spreader.”
The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (JCC), which comprises the beit din, updated its advisory on March 18, ordering all community facilities, including synagogues, yeshivot and schools to close immediately. It said it had been in communication with “a senior representative of the Quebec government.” Legault had also reiterated that houses of worship of all religions must close.
The JCC message (in English and Yiddish) from its executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel and Chief Rabbi Benjamin Weiss urged all gatherings, include funerals, to be postponed.
The Council also warned against holding minyanim in homes, yards or even on the street.
“Let us all not forget for a moment that the primary concern and mitzvah for us all at this juncture is pikuach nefesh, which supersedes all other mitzvot.”
The day before, police intervened at a Hasidic synagogue in Outremont, Que., when a group of young men were seen gathered on its front steps to warn them of the emergency measures.
In a statement, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec said, “In the eyes of the rabbinical authorities in our communities, (Premier) François Legault’s request to close all places of worship is deemed necessary to ensure the well-being of all Quebecers, including that of our communities.
“In this sense, we act as responsible and united citizens … The council has set up a committee is disseminating the latest information in Yiddish and reinforcing among community members the necessity of strict compliance with the provincial regulations,” the statement said.
“Closing our synagogues was not an easy decision, believe us. However, by doing so, we are conforming to the divine and earthly laws that command us first to preserve life … We will continue to pray with all Quebecers so that our country can pass through these difficult trials.”
Chabad of the Town director Rabbi Moshe Krasnanski said, “I never imagined a time that we would have to voluntarily shut our doors, even temporarily. My parents were both born under communism and their families self-sacrificed to defy the Russian government’s orders to close down every shul, gathering in defiance in homes or cellars to pray and study.
“Then shuls and Jewish institutions were being shut down due to hatred and anti-Semitism, but today we are shutting down because of love to our fellow Jews, to save even one life.”
On March 20, Rabbi Adam Scheier informed congregants that a guest at a wedding that took place at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim has tested positive for the virus. The event was a rental of the premises and the shul’s clergy were not present.
“At no time did any guest enter our kitchen or anywhere other than the public spaces of the building. We have instructed our employees who were present at that wedding to quarantine and be alert for symptoms. Of course, we will ensure the building is cleaned by health professionals before resuming services and programs.”
The Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec has set up a Yiddish hotline at 514-700-8927. The list of measures the City of Côte St-Luc is taking is available at CoteSaintLuc.org/Coronavirus. This includes information on food delivery options.