Hundreds gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday to pray for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak and to halt the epidemic.Worshipers recited prayers and Psalms, sang and even danced in a circle, asking God to help in the finding of a cure for the disease, in a ceremony promoted by Chief Rabbi of Safed and president of the Rabbinical Community Association Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu in partnership with the Israeli branch of the US Orthodox Union. “Millions and millions of people are going through tremendous suffering in China and outside China,” Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of the Israeli branch of the Orthodox Union, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the ceremony. “As Jews, we believe that God has the power to send healing. We are not doctors, but we can pray.”
Berman mentioned not only those who have been infected by the virus, but also the millions currently in lockdown and the other challenges China is facing, such as the decision by many airlines to cancel their flights to and from the country. He also stressed that the Chinese government is making every effort, including taking very challenging measures, to make sure the virus does not further spread.“We look at our forefathers and see how when they saw trouble in the world, they prayed to God to take care of it, they prayed for the sick to recover and for the poor to find sustenance. The Chinese people represent one sixth of the world and many are affected also in the United States, in Europe, in Asia,” Berman added. “We should all worry about what is happening and come together to do something about it.“I can tell you that since the end of Shabbat my phone has not stopped for a moment to ring or receive messages from schools, communities or organization wishing to participate or to show their support,” he added.Those who attended gathered around a temporary installation that read: “The People of Israel pray for the sake of China” in Hebrew and Chinese, which was placed in the men’s side of the Western Wall plaza.After the daily afternoon prayer, a series of Psalms and traditional prayers for healing were recited. “Every single person in the world has the ability to pray in their own words. King David, who went through very hard times, composed beautiful prayers that we can use,” Berman said, emphasizing the importance of addressing God near the Temple Mount, a place of special spiritual value.During the ceremony, the organizers expressed the hope that from the “center of the world” can a cure for the coronavirus be speedily found, remembering how Judaism promotes the sanctity of human life. A long shofar blast concluded the event.Vera Schwarcz, a professor of Chinese history at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University who attended the event from the women’s side, also emphasized the importance of the location.“I am delighted that so many people came in spite of the weather. I believe in the power of tefillot [prayers],” she said. “I also believe that this is a place of emet, of truth, while the Chinese government has been spreading a lot of misinformation. I think this gathering is also a way to uncover and elevate the truth.”Solidarity with the Chinese people was expressed also by Sheri Tao. Originally from Taiwan, Tao arrived in Israel about 10 years ago and stayed after marrying a local.“I think it is very generous and kind for the rabbis to call a prayer for China in this difficult time,” she told the Post during the ceremony. “Even if I’m from Taiwan, I feel sorry for the Chinese people and especially for those who do not have access to enough medical care.”As of Sunday, Taiwan registered about 20 cases of people infected by the coronavirus and one death. In Mainland China the disease has so far killed more than 1,600 people and infected about 68,500.Tao says she still has family in Taiwan, but she is not worried. “Since the very beginning of the outbreak, the authorities took the appropriate measures and the situation is under control,” she added.“In time of need we all come together and with the help of God we hope that the coronavirus will soon be cured. However, it is important to also remember to come together in normal times and not to lose sight of all the good that exists in the world,” Berman concluded.According to the organizers, several Chinese officials in Israel attended the ceremony.“The Chinese Embassy in Israel would like to extend its sincere appreciation for the sympathy, support and solidarity expressed by the Jewish people. We will never forget it,” the embassy said.
Dozens gathered at the Western Wall on February 16, 2020 to pray for those affected by the coronavirus outbreak (Credit: Rossella Tercatin)