A beloved father, mother, son and daughter from New Rochelle’s Jewish community have been diagnosed with coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. New Rochelle’s “patient one” is Lawrence Garbuz, a well-known, well-liked trusts and estates attorney who works in Manhattan. He is an SAR High School and Yeshiva University parent; Garbuz and his wife Adina were honored in 2017 for their community dedication at Young Israel of New Rochelle’s 50th annual dinner. He is currently an in-patient at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights. His Hebrew name is Eliezer Yitzchak ben Shifra.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday morning that Garbuz’s wife, son, daughter, and a neighbor tested positive for the virus, bringing the total of New York cases of coronavirus to six. By press time, several more cases had been identified.
Dr. Sherlita Amler, Westchester County’s health commissioner, ordered the Young Israel of New Rochelle to halt all services immediately and for the foreseeable future. Congregants “who attended either services on February 22, or a funeral or bat mitzvah at the temple on February 23, must self-quarantine until at the very earliest March 8. Those who do not self-quarantine will be mandated by the County Department of Health to do so.” The commissioner continued, “Quarantine means that both adults and children should remain at home at least until March 8. This means they should not go to work, attend school, go shopping or attend religious services or gatherings anywhere and should have no guests, visitors or staff in their homes during this period.”
Rabbi Yosef Adler of Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael wrote the following message to his congregants on Tuesday evening. “The aforementioned funeral on February 22 was for Marek Appell, z”l, father of our former member Carolyn Diller. If you were in attendance at the funeral, we ask that you respect the DOH guidelines and please do not attend shul until at least March 8. If you were at the funeral, please advise the shul office,” he wrote.
The Garbuzes have four children, including two children in schools in New York; with a Yeshiva University son newly diagnosed with the virus, the YU Wilf Campus canceled classes for all students on Wednesday morning, including high school students attending MTA and graduate students. MTA students from around the region who were bused in this morning were not allowed to enter the campus and were returned home immediately. Later on Wednesday, YU announced that the midtown campus would also be closed and students were being discouraged from congregating in public places such as the beit midrash. Social events, including the upcoming annual Sarachek basketball tournament, were canceled. YU students who remain on campus were told they would have access to dining facilities, and students displaying symptoms would be monitored by YU health staff with food provided to them directly; non-essential staff were asked to work remotely.
A YU rabbi asked the entire community to daven for the Garbuz family’s refuah sheleima. “I encourage everyone to approach this not as a piece of news but to please recognize this is an incredible boy with a beautiful family,” wrote Rabbi Eli Belizon, a teacher of the YU student, in a message to his Fair Lawn community. “They are suffering not only because of their father’s predicament but because they are the center of a lot of rumors and gossip.”
While the Wednesday news of the YU son’s diagnosis was shocking, concerns regarding coronavirus began to be felt in the region the previous day, as another Garbuz child is a student at SAR High School in Riverdale.
At 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 3, as hundreds of SAR students prepared for school, parents received urgent text messages regarding a sudden school-wide closure. Minutes later, an email informed them of a suspected case of coronavirus in “our community.” Shortly, Westchester Day School, Beth El Nursery and Religious Schools, Chabad’s Aleph Bet Preschool and Westchester Torah Academy also announced closures. WTA students were already on school buses when the notice came out, forcing them to turn around.
In their first follow-up email, SAR explained, “We decided to close today as a precautionary measure and needed time to discuss recommendations with the Departments of Health.” Addressing the anxiety of parents and children, the SAR guidance team hosted Zoom Cloud live-meetings for grades three to eight and the high school’s students. Rabbi Krauss began, “I know many of you and your parents are trying to figure out what this all means. We want to make sure we’re all healthy and safe. I’ll continue to be in contact with important information. We will give it to you honestly and directly. Sometimes information changes, but we are committed to making sure that everybody has the information so you can know what is going on.” Krauss added, “The first thing we should be thinking about is someone in our community who is sick.” Krauss then led over 100 on-line families in Tehillim.
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson stated, “I join our entire community in extending thoughts and prayers to our neighbor and his family.” Bramson added, “I have been in constant communication with county and state leaders, who have primary responsibility for public health matters. We will assist and support their efforts in any appropriate and constructive fashion.”
A Cardozo Law School student is also in self-quarantine as a precaution because of contact with the Garbuz’s law firm. The Cardozo student is reporting no symptoms.
Rabbi Fink of YINR detailed the practical and halachic aspects of the shul’s ordered temporary closure from Wednesday through Sunday. There can’t be any minyanim in shul. Fink stated, “First and foremost, one of our dearest friends is quite ill and we pray for his speedy and complete recovery. We should all pray for him and that his family will hear good news soon.” Fink’s instructions for those quarantined include those who have yahrzeits should pray and light yahrzeit lamps at home. If a relative says Kaddish on that day, you’re covered. If not, designate a relative or friend to recite Kaddish. Otherwise, say Kaddish after the quarantine is lifted. Quarantined mourners obligated to recite Kaddish and have no one to fill in must remain home for the duration. Fink emphasized, “Jewish law regards pikuach nefesh (physical jeopardy) as an overarching value. As the shul will be closed this Shabbat Zachor, the Torah-mandated Parshat Zachor will be read on Purim morning from a second Torah.”
Fink concluded, “This is a very emotionally trying time for us all. When we first heard of the coronavirus it seemed so remote. It has now come not only to our doorstep, but has pierced our lives. Clearly, this entire episode is frightening and difficult, but let us not lose sight, however, that we are following the procedures mandated by our state’s health department to try to prevent the spread of this virus. That is a sacred obligation that we all must take very seriously.”
By Judy Berger and JLBWC Staff