Plague: How Jews Dealt with a 17th Century Pandemic

Stand for Israel  |  July 29, 2020

Plague hospital in Hamburg, Germany
Plague hospital in Hamburg, Germany

The pandemic gripping our world right now might feel new, but other times of plague and panic gripped people in earlier times. Writing at The Jerusalem Post, Penny Schwartz tells of a chillingly familiar time when Jews found themselves separated from their families because of disease:

More than 350 years ago, a plague took a deadly toll on Hamburg, Germany. As the High Holidays approached, fear and panic set in and many of the city’s Jewish families fled.

Among them were Glikl and Hayyim Hamel, successful Jewish merchants who left with their three young children, including an 8-week-old daughter. En route to Hayyim’s parents, they spent time with relatives in Hanover, where some locals came to suspect their oldest daughter, 4-year-old Tsipor, was infected. Despite their assurances that she wasn’t ill, Glikl and Hayyim were forced to banish Tsipor and her caregivers to another town and were only allowed to visit from a distance.

“I will let any good father or mother judge for themselves how we felt,” Glikl would later write in her memoir. “My husband, of blessed memory, stood in a corner, weeping and pleading, while I stood in a corner.”

In the midst of a viral pandemic that again is separating parents from their children, Glikl’s poignant rendering of the family’s ordeal rings chillingly familiar…

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