Coronavirus dispatches
Coronavirus 2020

Coronavirus dispatches

Two mayors of Greater MetroWest partnership communities in a photo from 2019. Shai Hajaj, at right, mayor of Merchavim, who tested positive for Covid-19, and Itzik Danino, mayor of Ofakim.
Two mayors of Greater MetroWest partnership communities in a photo from 2019. Shai Hajaj, at right, mayor of Merchavim, who tested positive for Covid-19, and Itzik Danino, mayor of Ofakim.

Greater MetroWest partner in Israel diagnosed with Covid-19

An Israeli mayor who has a long-running partnership with Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ has contracted the Covid-19 illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Shai Hajaj is mayor of the Merchavim Regional Council, which consists of 14 communities in the northern Negev that have been partnered with Greater MetroWest since the Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2gether Peoplehood Platform began in 1996. Originally called Partnership 2000, the program connects individual Jewish communities from around the world to Israeli communities.

Hajaj said he caught the virus from the husband of a doctor at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. Four members of Knesset (MKs), including two cabinet ministers, who were in contact with Hajaj at an agricultural conference in Ramat Gan have since had to be quarantined. All the MKs have tested negative.

The mayor said he is feeling well and continues to run Merchavim from his home until he is rid of the virus and his quarantine ends. Hajaj said he wanted to send a message to the people of Greater MetroWest that all the volunteers from their community in Merchavim are completely healthy.

“I appreciate the concern of our friends in New Jersey,” he said. “I love them and embrace them, and I’m happy to help them in any way. I hope this period passes soon for the good of all of us.”

The virus has also impacted the mayor of Rishon LeZion, Israel’s fourth largest city and another Greater MetroWest partner community. Mayor Raz Kinstlich had to be quarantined, ironically, because the judge at a hearing related to Covid-19 contracted the virus. The hearing was about whether 80 elderly people at a geriatric center had to be removed in order to enable the center to house coronavirus patients. Kinstlich protested the takeover of the center in court. Not only did he lose the case, he also lost the right to leave his home. His deputies and aides were also quarantined.

“The city is still working, even though our offices are closed down,” Kinstlich said. “Don’t worry. My quarantine is almost over, and my city and our partnership with MetroWest will both soon be stronger.”

Rishon LeZion has been partnered with Greater MetroWest since 1978, when a disadvantaged neighborhood in the city was tied to federation’s Project Renewal, a joint program of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency.

Federation’s partnership network is trying to maintain its connections despite many of its leaders being quarantined. Amir Shacham, federation’s associate executive vice president of Global Connections, said he was monitoring the situation and assessing needs.

“Because we’re a suburban community and already maintaining a network of overseas partnerships, we’re well-equipped to work remotely and maintain virtual local and global connections,” Shacham said. “We see that even more clearly now.”

— GIL HOFFMAN/NJJN Israel Correspondent

Team Israel bolsters roster in spite of Olympic delay

The Israel National Baseball Team had already qualified for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but this week they got more good news — and some bad.

First the good: They learned that recently retired Major League Baseball infielder Ian Kinsler fulfilled Israeli citizenship requirements and would be eligible to compete for a spot on the roster.

The bad news, of course, was that the 2020 Olympics will be postponed to at least 2021.

“All our players are doing fine and practicing and training as best as they can. Each one does different things, depending on the facilities they have available,” Team Israel general manager Peter Kurz wrote to NJJN in an email exchange before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the decision to push off the games. “A postponement of the games won’t be good for our team, as we are ready and able to go now and have been gearing up to play in July.”

Before the IOC’s postponement decision became official, several countries, including Australia, Canada, and Germany, said they would not send teams to Tokyo this summer due to the spread of the coronavirus. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee urged the IOC to postpone the games, and the following day, March 24, the IOC made the decision official.

Morristown’s Mark Rattner, a past president of Jewish National Fund’s Central New Jersey region who has been fund-raising for the team and for the Israel Association of Baseball, is concerned about the effect that postponing the games might have on the roster.

“I’m not sure we’ll have the same roster,” he said, adding, “I am excited about Ian Kinsler joining the team.”

Kinsler, 37, played 14 seasons with teams in Texas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Diego, amassing 1,999 hits, 257 home runs, and 243 stolen bases. According to, the four-time All-Star and two-time Golden Glove winner was born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother.


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