As China remained on high emergency with the death toll and infection rates from the coronavirus rising—in a nation with more than 60 million people currently on lockdown and increasingly isolated from the rest of the world—one Jewish leader found a way to help in a historically meaningful way.

After morning prayer services on Monday, Rabbi Shalom Greenberg, who has co-directed Chabad-Lubavitch of Shanghai with his wife, Dina, since 1998, delivered 10,000 protective masks to the city’s Jewish Refugee Museum to be distributed to elderly Chinese. With the number of deaths from the virus in China climbing to at least 362 and the number of infected in the country to more than 17,000, protective masks are a requirement in many public spaces.

What made the action particularly poignant was that the museum where the masks are being distributed is located in the Hongkou section of the city, where tens of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II found safe harbor among the local Shanghai citizenry.

“We are honored to be able to help those who helped our people at a time of dire need,” Greenberg said in a statement. “Last week, the world commemorated 75 years of the liberation of the death camps,” he said, adding that during and after the war, “thousands of Jewish people found refuge in Shanghai in this exact area.”

The museum, which serves as the primary information point for what has been referred to as the “Miracle of Shanghai,” activated its staff and extra volunteers to distribute the masks “door to door to allow the elderly the mobility to better organize their everyday needs,” said Greenberg.

He added that the measure was also aimed at protecting the seniors from further risk “by having to line up in the cold weather [for masks] at a time when gatherings can be potentially unsafe during an epidemic of this proportion.”

The museum memorializes one of the mitigating moments in Holocaust history, occupying the same structure that was the Ohel Moshe Synagogue during, before and for a time after the war.

The synagogue and surrounding community were built by Russian Jews in 1927, approximately 10,000 of whom fled there in the 1920s and 1930s following the Bolshevik Revolution. The community later served as the primary destination for the estimated 20,000 mostly European Jews who fled to Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s.

Essential Donations from Abroad

Greenberg pointed out that the elderly and the infirm are among the most vulnerable to the virus, which took the life of its first known victim outside of China on Saturday, a 44-year-old man from Wuhan who was visiting the Philippines. The masks came from an overseas Jewish sponsor, he said.

In addition, on Sunday, Magen David Adom emergency services organization in Israel sent more than 2,000 items of protective equipment for distribution by China's Chabad centers. The protective kits, which include special suits, masks, glasses, shoes and hat covers, are designed to prevent infection when there is a need for contact with a person who has contracted the virus.

In its latest estimate, the World Health Organization reported that in addition to the thousands infected in China, more than 150 cases of the highly contagious respiratory virus in 23 other countries have so far been documented.

To assist Jewish communities in China, visit ChabadChinaNews.org/Donate.

The museum activated its staff and extra volunteers to distribute the masks “door to door to allow the elderly the mobility to better organize their everyday needs,” said Greenberg.
The museum activated its staff and extra volunteers to distribute the masks “door to door to allow the elderly the mobility to better organize their everyday needs,” said Greenberg.