Rabbi Schneor Greenberg and his siblings in Shanghai are working hard to help Jews and non-Jews combat the deadly virus.
Photos by Chabad Shanghai
As global health officials struggle to contain the effects of the coronavirus, a Detroit-area Chabad rabbi adds his own layers of concern — and personal pride.
Rabbi Schneor Greenberg, who, with his wife, Estie, directs the Chabad Jewish Center of Commerce, Michigan, has two siblings running Chabad centers in the Shanghai region of China — about 500 miles from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in late December.
As of Feb. 11, there have been 43,143 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,018 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science Engineering, which maintains a dashboard using combined figures from various sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO). Mainland China alone has 42,670 of the cases and 1,016 deaths.
Greenberg understands the risks for those, like his brothers, who live and work in Shanghai, where 303 cases have been confirmed as of Feb. 11, according to the WHO.
One brother, Rabbi Avraham Greenberg, and his wife, Nechamie, run the Chabad Jewish Center of Pudong, a district in Shanghai. They left with their family on Feb. 2 and now are aiding relief efforts from the Detroit area, where two of their children attend school.
Another sibling, Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, co-directs the Shanghai Jewish Center with his wife, Dinie. Shalom has remained in Shanghai to look after the center and provide local aid. Dinie left the country with their children on Feb. 5.
Shanghai has been home for Shalom and Dinie since 1998, when the two first established their Chabad center and Shalom became the first rabbi in mainland China. Today, together with Avraham’s Pudong center and a third Chabad outpost in Shanghai, they serve the 2,000 Jews who live scattered throughout the metropolis of nearly 28 million people.
The Chabad outreach centers serve Jewish students and travelers, as well as individuals relocated for work who often come with their families. The centers provide services, including classes, kosher meals and holiday programming.
In recent weeks, the rabbis helped their community members obtain subsidies for plane tickets home, and now 95% of the Jews in Shanghai have left.
“Only about 35 or 40 of them remain, so when Shabbat comes and 10 Jewish people come to Shalom’s for dinner, these people find other Jews,” Avraham told the JN. “For them to know Chabad is still here and they can come have a meal together is very special.”
Along with emissaries at the 12 other Chabad Jewish Centers in China (including Hong Kong), the two Greenberg families helped establish a relief fund to aid the country’s Jewish communities. Four rabbis remain in China; the others continue fundraising efforts from other countries.
The Greenbergs’ relief efforts have extended beyond the Jewish community, as well.
In a mammoth undertaking Feb. 3, Shalom Greenberg organized the distribution of 10,000 medical-grade masks and disinfecting equipment throughout Shanghai. Two thousand masks came from Magen David Adom, Israel’s national EMS organization, which upon Chabad’s request, also sent 200 full-body protection kits for those in contact with affected individuals.
The Israeli non-governmental humanitarian aid agency IsraAID, in partnership with the Israel-China Chamber of Commerce, Innonation (a platform promoting Israel-Chinese relationships) and David Ashkenazi of ICCB-Capital, also sent a shipment of medical supplies.
Stored in the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, which honors Jewish refugees who escaped Nazi Germany during World War II by fleeing to Shanghai, the masks were distributed to Jews and non-Jews alike.
“We are proud of those who are working there,” said Schneor Greenberg of Commerce. “They are the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s shluchim (messengers) doing a vital job of helping those in need. On a personal note, we feel indebted to help the Chinese people because Estie’s grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Fox, managed to escape to Shanghai with thousands of Jews who found refuge there during the Holocaust.”
The rabbis’ hope is that the masks will not only help prevent disease but also protect seniors from having to go out in the cold weather. To ensure this, a team of volunteers, largely non-Jewish Chinese citizens, delivered many of the masks door-to-door.
“In China, it is required to wear a face mask,” Avraham said. “You are not allowed anywhere without one — not in a taxi, not in a store. You can’t live there without them.” And, he said, because each mask can only be used for two to three hours, individuals need more than one.
Many Jews had left the country before the outbreak during the Chinese New Year holiday and, because of the virus, did not return after vacation, according to Schneor Greenberg.
Aid from Detroit
Away from Pudong, Avraham and Nechamie Greenberg are launching fundraising efforts in Metro Detroit, where the two went to school and where Nechamie’s parents live. They are here with their nine children, including Mendel, 15, and Levi, 13, students at the Lubavitch Cheder & Yeshiva, International School for Chabad Leadership in Oak Park. One of Shalom’s sons, Mendel, 20, serves as a mentor at the yeshivah.
“We are raising funds to continue to be there for the Jewish people of China,” Avraham said. “We still need to pay the rent and keep the Jewish centers going for when the people come back.
“There is something special about Chabad in China,” he said. “In America, there are already Jewish centers in place; Chabad is an addition. In China, there is nothing. We are the infrastructure of Jewish life. We are the address if someone has a bar mitzvah or a bris, or to take care of a body when someone dies, to plan a seder, everything.”
When the family left Shanghai, the streets were deserted, Avraham said. No cars were on the road. A 40-floor hotel was completely empty. Most people had closed their houses and evacuated.
“There is no lockdown, but people minimize their time out; they go mostly to buy food,” he said. Because Chabad is the local supplier of kosher food, Shalom has a storage area with containers that include meat from Uruguay and matzah and wine from Israel.
Like Schneor, Avraham is concerned for Shalom but says he is careful about where he goes and about following health protocol, including frequent hand washing. Despite dire warnings from health officials, Shalom says he will remain in Shanghai as long as he does not feel he is in extreme danger.
Going Back Home
The family is enjoying the extended visit to Detroit, but Avraham and Nechamie look forward to serving their Shanghai community again. They already are reaching out.
“We continue to support them from here,” Nechamie said. “They are in lots of different cities and countries, but we are planning a Torah study class online, and a group of women who run our Hebrew school want to continue online studies for our students.”
All of Schneor, Shalom and Avraham’s 14 Israeli-born siblings also are Chabad emissaries, serving communities in the U.S., Israel, China, Ukraine, France and Germany.
“Especially in times of need, we all need to look around and see how we could help the people around us,” Shalom Greenberg said. “It could be helping one person at a time or on a larger scale, but we must ask ourselves this question again and again, and then we act on it.”
To help provide supplies and support to China’s Jewish communities, go to www.chabadchinanews.org/donate