NYC Corona, Curfew, Chaos

Sharing an outlook from Rav Yitzchok Hutner in these troubling times.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin ,


No sooner have we seemed to “make peace” with the Coronavirus, adjusting our lifestyles and taking the hits of isolation, the sick and dead, when here in New York City and much of America we found ourselves under curfew.

The weather has improved, it is warmer now, but not the political climate, it is at boiling point as riots and looting destroy America’s cities - and that means that lots of Jewish-owned businesses are taking a big hit too.

The last time New York City was subjected to a curfew was in 1943 and that applied only to Harlem in Manhattan because of the Harlem riots that were ignited after a black US soldier got into a fight with a white policeman in a hotel lobby about a woman who was about to be arrested. The policeman shot the soldier in the shoulder and then a false rumor started that the soldier was killed. It resulted in rioting and destruction of businesses, with the neighborhood of Harlem being put under a curfew by Mayor La Guardia for a few days until things calmed down.

Not so in the case of the 2020 George Floyd riots and looting that had the entire city of New York under a curfew as if a war was going on. In some sense it is a political and socio-economic war between the have-nots versus the haves. Understandably Jews are very uncomfortable. There is talk floating around that many people are thinking of moving to Israel. For those who don’t see that serious a threat, the plans are of going away for Summer vacation. Some are thinking of moving out of New York permanently, but where do you go to when so many other main cities are burning? It is a great conundrum indeed.

Jews are used to misfortunes in their history and have always overcome, no matter what comes their way,, and now is no different. Among the Orthodox-Haredi-Hassidic Jews in the New York-New Jersey areas, collective memories of the Holocaust are never too far in the distance. So many people in the frum world are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors that they evidence an almost a stoic and stunned acceptrance of (a) Coronavirus and social distancing, and (b) the chaos, looting and rioting around them with a curfew to top it off.

There is no panic, just a 'wait and see' attitude with the hope that all will turn out all right. Children are playing on the streets of Flatbush and Boro Park for example, as their young mothers gather in clusters to discuss what’s going on. Fathers are trying to keep on working to support their families and make a living in the middle of all the mayhem. Hopefully the crisis will pass Im Yirtzeh Hashem (G-d willing), but is this essentially positive and optimistic attitude of great good expectations justified?

Jewish history is not over quite yet, we have a way to go, and the troubles are all around us. Rav Hutner teaches not to be surprised by all this.

Nobody knows and time will tell, but I cannot help but think of some remarkable points I learned from Rav Yitzchok Hutner (1906-1980).

In 1977 Rav Yitzchok Hutner, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, and of Yeshiva Pachad Yitzchak in Har Nof, Jerusalem, delivered a famous lecture to Jewish educators titled “‘Holocaust’ – A Study of the Term and the Epoch it is Meant to Describe” (originally published in The Jewish Observer magazine, October 1977, pp 3-9, reprinted in “A Path Through the Ashes: Penetrating analyses and inspiring stories of the Holocaust from a Torah perspective” (published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, January 1986, pp. 39-55) covering many dimensions, aspects and consequences of the Holocaust on Jewish life. See my earlier article based on this work, “Corona and Kiruv.”

The following section is a mere segment from a much longer article by Rav Yitzchok Hutner (A Path Through the Ashes, p. 52) (emphasis mine):

  • “Much of our education has been permeated with the ‘sunny side of Judaism,’ resulting from cowardice and failure of will to deal with the misfortunes of Klal Yisrael. Yet, here is one of the sources of our uniqueness.
  • We are happy to teach our children of our ‘chosenness’ in mitzvos (commandments) and our closeness to G-d.
  • Yet, at our peril, we ignore the fact that there are three different portions of tochachah, rebuke and promise of punishment in the Torah (Bechukosai, Ki Savo, Nitzavim-Vayeilech).
  • We must learn these parts of the Torah with our children as well as the ‘sunnier’ portions.
  • These portions must become as much a part of the Jewish psyche as the mitzvos we strain so hard to imbue.
  • Thus, when a Jewish child – or indeed, adult – hears for the first time of Yiddishe tzaros (the suffering of the Jewish People), he will not be shocked by a contradiction to what he has learned, but will see the living proof of the Torah he has absorbed.”

Who would deny that what we are living through during this time of the Coronavirus war and now the parallel riots, looting, and curfews that have hit America, and no doubt many of the Jewish business owners who businesses have been attacked by ganavim and gazlanim (robbers and looters) as a time of tochachah (rebuke) from Above! Not as radical as the Holocaust itself, but certainly with clear and obvious reminders of Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass in 1938.

As Wikipedia describes it: “The name Kristallnacht ("Crystal Night") comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed.” And now we have a whiff of that too! Obviously and mercifully not as bad as the Nazis’ havoc in 1938, but we have experienced true chaos in 2020.

Add to this mix in the USA the dangers stemming from right wing neo-Nazi and outright Fascist groups in alliance with radical Islamic adherents, and we have before us a lethal brew of trouble and trouble-makers stirring the pot and inciting each other to more and more anti-American and antisemitic violance.

Jewish history is not over quite yet, we have a way to go, and the troubles are all around us. Rav Hutner teaches not to be surprised by all this, it stems from what has been foreseen and predicted in the Torah. Prayerfully we beseech G-d that the worst is behind us and that we have paid our collective dues with the Six Million Kedoshim (martyrs) from 1939 to 1945, in addition to victims of terrorism and those who fell in Israel in the wars against Jews.