The Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod Join Forces to Assist Italian Jewish Community Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

  • President of Italy’s Jewish community: This is the worst crisis we’ve endured since WWII
  • Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog:  We will urge Jewish organizations and Jewish communities worldwide to assist the Italian Jewish community

Jerusalem, March 12, 2020 – As Italy grapples with the novel Coronavirus, the Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Isaac Herzog, and Chairman of Keren Hayesod, Sam Grundwerg, spoke with leaders of the country’s Jewish communities in Rome and Milan to voice their solidarity with those affected. The community leaders described the challenges and threats they are facing, and their immediate needs.

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. 

The President of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Durgello, shared her community’s fears surrounding the global pandemic:

“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.” 

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

Meanwhile, the President of Milan’s Jewish community, Milo Hasbani, revealed the painstaking measures taken in order to maintain calm:

“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. 

Speaking to the Hebrew press, Herzog said 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.”

“Schools, kindergartens, security, assistance for Holocaust survivors and other vulnerable people at risk and the preservation of synagogues, cemeteries are just some of the challenges these communities are facing,” Herzog continued.

As a result, The Jewish Agency announced that it is “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.”

In the meantime, Karen Hayesod and The Jewish Agency are awaiting a full list of the community’s needs and will be providing further assistance. 

In addition, a special team led by Shay Felber (Director of The Jewish Agency’s Unit for Aliyah, Absorption and Special Operations) and Alex Kerner (Keren Hayesod’s emissary in Italy) will focus on provisions.

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

About The Jewish Agency

Since 1929, The Jewish Agency for Israel has been working to secure a vibrant Jewish future. It was instrumental in founding and building the State of Israel and continues to serve as the main link between the Jewish state and Jewish communities everywhere. This global partnership has enabled it to address the Jewish People’s greatest challenges in every generation. Today, the Jewish Agency connects the global Jewish family, bringing Jews to Israel, and Israel to Jews, by providing meaningful Israel engagement and facilitating Aliyah. It also strives to build a better society in Israel – and beyond – energizing young Israelis and their worldwide peers to rediscover a collective sense of Jewish purpose. The Jewish Agency continues to be the Jewish world’s first responder, prepared to address emergencies in Israel, and to rescue Jews from countries where they are at risk.

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