Mike Malowitz and his granddaughter Lilah
Mike Malowitz and his granddaughter Lilah. (Courtesy of Mike Malowitz)

Over the past 15 months, Jewish residents of Metro Detroit and Windsor have struggled with the restrictions.

The ongoing border closure between the U.S. and Canada continues to impact Jewish communities in both countries. These effects are felt especially hard in Windsor and Detroit, where Jewish life is often intertwined with families living on both sides of the border and Metro Detroit residents attending school in Windsor and vice-versa.

Since March 2020, the border has been closed to nonessential travel due to the COVID-19 crisis. Over the past 15 months, Jewish residents of Metro Detroit and Windsor have struggled with the restrictions. With the border closure extended until July 21, rumors about a possible border reopening in the coming weeks or months, Jewish individuals are hopeful that life can soon resume as it once was.

“Windsor is a border city that is intrinsically linked to our neighbors across the river in Detroit, Michigan,” the Windsor Jewish Federation & Community Centre said in a statement. “Since March 2020, our province’s residents, including members of the Windsor Jewish community, have suffered untold mental, financial and educational hardship due to ongoing COVID-19 related lockdowns, the after effects of which will reverberate for many years to come.”

Dr. Mike Malowitz, president of the federation and community center, has personally felt the impacts of the ongoing border closure. He hasn’t been able to see his granddaughter in months, who lives across the border. “The pleasure of picking up our granddaughter at school, taking her to gymnastics class and watching her perform her exercises is now gone,” he explains.

Malowitz’s family, like many others living on both sides of the border, haven’t been able to celebrate Passover, Shabbat dinners, birthdays, Chanukah and other events together. While they’ve turned to virtual get-togethers, Malowitz says electronics can’t replace the in-person interactions of special occasions.

“These events were taken away,” he says, “and reduced to seeing family on a Zoom square on the computer screen.”

Malowitz says one of the toughest hurdles to overcome within the Jewish community is the emotional pain caused by not being able to attend funerals in person. “Family members were not allowed to cross the border to attend the funerals of loved ones and were reduced to watching the proceedings by Zoom since the number of attendees was limited by quarantine rules,” he says. “The comfort of family and friends provided by the shivah period cannot be replaced by prayers on a Zoom screen.”

Bar and bat mitzvahs, Malowitz adds, were also significantly impacted by the border closure. For these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, some families could not attend the services of loved ones living across the border, while other families had to forego the events altogether, postponed for a later date.

“The joys of simchahs such as bar and bat mitzvahs have been challenged by the in-person limits imposed by safety rules,” Malowitz describes.

Upcoming Break?

However, Jewish residents in Metro Detroit and Windsor may have good news to look forward to soon as talks between the U.S. and Canadian governments continue. There are also efforts to get more Windsor residents vaccinated with surplus COVID-19 vaccines from Michigan, which lawmakers hope can be done at the border without the need to leave one’s car or quarantine upon return.

Currently, Canada has a strict 14-day quarantine policy for unvaccinated residents who are exempt from the border closure. The country is now in the process of easing restrictions on vaccinated residents as well. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens is also pushing in favor of receiving surplus vaccines from Michigan with a new proposal.

“As the protection from vaccinations increases and the number of COVID cases continues to decline, it is hoped that both family and community functions will once again resume,” Malowitz says, “so that life can begin with a familiar degree of normalcy.” 

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