Two weeks ago, as we moved ever closer to lockdown with the rise in Coronavirus cases in the UK, in Belarus, we were informed that they had a low number of reported cases and that they were operating as normal. The British Embassy told us they were taking a stance in line with the UK guidelines, cancelling meetings and duties, and asking Embassy staff to work from home.
We have been sending recommendations to the communities we work with to encourage social distancing, with recommendations to terminate community activities where they can for the time being. We have been successful to some extent; some of the elderly are now isolating at home and will not attend community activities for the foreseeable future. The youth of the Polotsk Jewish Community will be running a small, low key outdoor seder with strict social distancing measures in place. News sources are reporting that the Belarus leadership is not seeing Coronavirus as a threat, which is concerning and worrying.
Two weeks ago, we were able to coordinate efforts to transport Matzah into Belarus from Ukraine, before Ukraine closed the border. This was a collaborative effort. The Matzah was paid for by the Orthodox Jewish Union of Belarus, but they were unable to get the consignment into the country. We, along with our partner charity in Belarus, the Association of Families with Many Children, drew up the clearance paperwork and were able to ensure the safe passage of the consignment, which is now stored in our warehouse in Minsk. The Matzah is now being distributed by our team in Minsk to communities across Belarus. We don’t know if any communal seder will be able to take place, but community members will for sure have Matzah in a country where it cannot be bought, and at a time where the world is grinding to a halt. In short, we see this as a small miracle!
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our humanitarian aid project is now on hold. However, from donations previously despatched, and now in our Minsk warehouse, we were able to deliver a freezer to the Minsk Jewish Community at the Daumana Street Synagogue. This will enable them to cook and freeze food for the community, something they have wanted to be able to do for a long time. Now, thanks to us, they can.