After going to a bat mitzvah attended by a coronavirus patient, students at a private New York City school were asked to self-quarantine, but the order came at a steep cost for Joseph Hershkowitz, 13, who was planning to celebrate his own bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, Hershkowitz's principal at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in the Bronx, offered the teenager a modern solution.
SAR Academy had been holding classes by video conference after the possible coronavirus exposure. Krauss' wife suggested: Why not a virtual bar mitzvah?
"We ended up having a Zoom bar mitzvah," Krauss said, referring to the video conference tool the school has been using.
The ceremony, which took place Thursday morning, was virtually attended by about 250 people, the rabbi said.
The large crowd required some managing. At one point, a junior high teacher on the call took charge by muting chatty students.
While Krauss officiated from a distance, Hershkowitz read a portion of the Torah with his immediate family. Afterward, Hershkowitz's parents blessed their son.
At the end of the ceremony, the teacher unmuted the other participants. The video call rotated through callers congratulating Hershkowitz with a hearty round of "Mazel tov." Many were his classmates, under quarantine in their family's homes, dressed in sweatshirts and pajamas.
"Here we are, so thankful that we can do this today," Joseph's mother, Karen, said at the end of the call. "We're just so proud to be sharing this, wherever we are, however we can."
The virus started its US spread in Washington, but on Saturday New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced more cases. The state had more than 100 cases as of early Sunday afternoon.
Cuomo has declared a state of emergency.
"We want to keep testing and finding more people who are testing positive because that's how you contain the outbreak: Find the person who got infected, quarantine them and reduce the infection rate," Cuomo said in a news release.
The governor has asked more than 2,500 people in New York to self-quarantine as officials search for anyone who may have come in contact with ill residents.