On the evening of September 12, 2019, at the home of Jason and Shani Reitberger, the Vaad HaRabbonim / Rabbinical Council of Baltimore hosted a reception to thank, among others, the City, County and State Health Departments; LifeBridge Health/Sinai Hospital; Agudath Israel of Maryland; Hatzalah of Baltimore; Baltimore Jewish Life; and Bais Yaakov and Shomrei Emunah for their critical roles in arranging community MMR vaccination clinics in Baltimore around Pesach time. With tremendous Siyata d’Shmaya, the robust and seamless partnership between all of these public and private groups helped to protect our community during this measles epidemic. The reception was an opportunity for our community to express its tremendous hakaros hatov and profound gratitude to these wonderful organizations and the individuals who represent them.
Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases as, according to the CDC, 9 out of 10 people who are exposed to measles who are not vaccinated will contract measles. Furthermore, according to the CDC, 75% of a measles outbreak is within insular communities, as they are more vulnerable to the spread of the disease. The CDC reports that, from January 1 to September 5, 2019, 1,241 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states.
When the first measles case (and then four more measles cases) occurred in the Baltimore Orthodox community shortly before Pesach, our community was at high risk due to the continued spread of measles in other Orthodox communities with which we interact regularly. Sinai/LifeBridge, the State and local Health Departments and local organizations in our community immediately galvanized to arrange clinics which could help ensure the highest level of vaccination in our community. As a result of four free clinics and other community efforts, approximately 2,000 members of our community were vaccinated over the course of approximately two weeks. In addition, many hundreds more received vaccinations in doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
The purpose of the reception on September 12 was to thank those who facilitated the vaccination clinics, with specific thanks to:
- The Infection Control, Emergency Response, Pediatric Department and Project Management Teams at Sinai Hospital for their outstanding leadership in bringing together the various agencies and coordinating the effort, as well as Sinai Hospital for supplying half of the vaccinations and supplies.
- Baltimore City Health Department for operating the first clinic despite an extremely short preparatory timeframe and providing ongoing clinical guidance and support.
- Baltimore County Health Department for operating the second and third clinics within an extremely short preparatory timeframe.
- Maryland State Department of Health and the Office of the Governor for supplying half of the vaccinations and supplies and providing ongoing clinical guidance and support.
- Shomrei Emunah and Bais Yaakov for hosting the clinics in their facilities, with all that that entails.
- Agudath Israel of Maryland and community physicians for taking the time and making the effort to coordinate these activities to protect our community over Pesach.
- Hatzalah of Baltimore for providing on-call emergency services and ongoing guidance and support.
- Jeff Cohn and Baltimore Jewish Life for providing continuous support and an incredible amount of high-profile space to ensure the success of this important community initiative.
In remarks at the reception, Rabbi Moshe Hauer thanked the Reitbergers for their gracious and generous hospitality, acknowledged the presence at the reception of many esteemed Rabbonim from the Vaad HaRabbonim including Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer, the president of the Vaad HaRabbonim, and welcomed our local elected officials. Rabbi Hauer then recounted how when measles started to advance in the country and the first measles case occurred in Baltimore City, there was an extraordinary move to action in our community. Neal Meltzer, President of LifeBridge Health, and Dr. Jonathan Ringo, President of LifeBridge’s Sinai Hospital, marshalled an amazing group of top specialists and experts from the City, County and State Health Departments and the infectious disease staff at Sinai Hospital. Within days, Dr. Adena Greenbaum of the Baltimore City Health Department put together our first community vaccination clinic, on incredibly short notice, at Shomrei Emunah. A short while later, Dr. Gregory Branch of the Baltimore County Department of Health put together the two subsequent vaccination clinics which were held at Bais Yaakov. The Baltimore City Health Department then conducted a fourth vaccination clinic. Rabbi Hauer expressed the community’s deep gratitude to both Shomrei Emunah and Bais Yaakov for immediately making their facilities available for the vaccination clinics, and to Jeff Cohn of Baltimore Jewish Life for the highly effective publicity in spreading the word and urging community members to attend the vaccination clinics. Rabbi Hauer also acknowledged and thanked Elimelech Matt Goldstein of Hatzalah, who played a huge and critical role in the planning and preparation of the clinics, and Agudath Israel of Maryland for its leadership in the communal measles vaccination clinic effort.
In attendance for these organizations were Rabbi Ariel Sadwin and Mr. Jan Loeb for Agudath Israel of Maryland; Dr. Shmuel Markovitz, President, and Rabbi Zalman Nissel, CEO of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore; Rabbi Binyamin Marwick and Itzi Barr, MD for Shomrei Emunah; and Gobbie and Shayna Cohn for BJL.
In his brief remarks, Rabbi Hauer noted that the Mishna in Pirkei Avos instructs us to pray for the wellbeing of the government. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that, as Jews, we must concern ourselves with the wellbeing of everyone in society, not just with our own communities. When we have effective and just government, we have safety, education, healthcare, and a productive economy. We live in a time when cynicism, criticism and skepticism of government is rampant. In contrast, Rabbi Hauer noted, that the measles vaccination effort in our community was a stellar example of government working together on all levels with community institutions and agencies in such a wonderful way to effectively ensure and maintain the safety and health of a community.
Rabbi Hauer concluded with a prayer for the well-being of the government.
Rabbi Hauer then invited Councilman Yitzy Schleifer, of Baltimore City’s 5th District, and Delegate Dalya Attar, of Baltimore City’s 41st Legislative District, to join him in presenting plaques from the Vaad HaRabbonim to the honorees.
- Accepting the plaque on behalf of Sinai/ LifeBridge was Jonathan Ringo, M.D., FACOG, President & Chief Operating Officer, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. Also in attendance for Sinai/ LifeBridge were Jamie Rubin, Infection Preventionist, LifeBridge Health and Daniel Meltzer, MBA, Operations Management Consultant, LifeBridge.
- Accepting the plaque on behalf of the City Health Department was Adena Greenbaum, MD MPH, Assistant Commissioner for Clinical Services and HIV/STD Prevention.
- Accepting the plaque on behalf of the County Health Department was Gregory Wm. Branch, M.D., MBA, CPE, FACP, Director, Health and Human Services. Also in attendance for the Baltimore County Health Department was Deputy Health Officer Della Leister.
- Accepting the plaque on behalf of the State Health Department was David Blythe, MD, MPH, State Epidemiologist and Director, Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Outbreak Response Bureau.
Dr. Jonathan Ringo then spoke briefly to thank Jason and Shani Reitberger for opening up their home for the reception, and to note the immense communal efforts and partnership, with G-d’s help, in dealing with the measles epidemic in our community. Dr. Ringo shared that other cities around the country had contacted Sinai to learn how our community dealt with the measles epidemic. Dr. Ringo concluded with special thanks to Rabbi Hauer for his absolutely critical role in bringing the issue to the fore and spearheading the vaccination clinics, and for his sage advice and counsel throughout the effort.
Also attending the reception were representatives from Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Cheder Chabad of Baltimore, Cheder D’Kahal Chassidim, JEWELS School, Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Ohr Chadash Academy of Baltimore, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim/Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, Yeshivas Kochav Yitzchok/Torah Institute of Baltimore and Yeshivas Toras Simcha of Baltimore. Also, in attendance were Allan and Debbie Gibber, who sponsored a community-wide educational event this past winter featuring Dr. Paul Offit, one of the nation’s leading experts on vaccinations.
We hope and pray for the continued health of our community and that HKB”H continue to watch over all of us.