It has been a little bit over a year since I was in Hong Kong, but I could never forget the wonderful Jewish community there.
Two weeks ago, a healthy baby boy was born to Rabbi Yisrael Lieberman, one of the Chabad shluchim on the Kowloon side (the part that connects to the Chinese mainland). I called him up and in an exclusive Hamodia interview, we discussed the current situation in Hong Kong and the difficulties surrounding trying to perform a bris for his new son.
DS: Good morning! Or should I say good night? (There is a 12-hour time difference between New York and Hong Kong.) I just want to start off with a hearty mazel tov on your newest simchah!
RYL: Thank you! Yes, our son was born on the first day of Iyar here in Queen Mary Hospital. Baruch Hashem, he is healthy and happy.
I hear that you are facing a challenge with trying to fulfill the commandment of bris milah.
Yes, this is correct. The problem we face is that it is currently impossible to find a mohel to do the bris. No mohel lives in Hong Kong. The one who used to spend a lot of time here got shut out of the country when he went abroad for a bris at the beginning of COVID, and the Hong Kong government only allows people to come into the country if they have a valid Hong Kong residence ID card.
We keep trying [to find a mohel], but no one has the proper documents.
In the beginning, the government gave us special permission to bring in a mohel or doctor, but back then, the quarantine was only 14 days and it could be in your own home. Now it’s at least 21 days in a special quarantine hotel.
In the early days of the coronavirus, which Hong Kong experienced well before most of the world, policies were very confused and not very systematic. As time went on and the government was very determined to get on top of the virus, the restrictions grew more established. But that has been paying off. Hong Kong only has two or three new cases a day, and although masks are mandatory and frequent sanitizing of hands encouraged by the police, businesses are wide open and life continues. If you keep the rules, it pays off well.
How has Chabad in Hong Kong been adapting to these historic changes?
Chabad has pivoted from serving the many tourists who visit here every year (which we obviously do not have right now) to focusing on the local community. We even have a Lag BaOmer event planned this week for over 100 people, obviously keeping to social distancing rules.
Back to the bris, what are you going to do?
The problem is that even if we found a mohel with the proper papers, who would want to come and quarantine for 3 weeks with a newborn? My wife went to Israel a while back for a levayah, and after just 10 days in the quarantine hotel, she was losing her mind.
I know that Chabad often looks to the words of the Rebbe, to give them chizuk. Have you seen anything that gives you the strength to get through this trial?
The Rebbe always says to ask your Rav for advice and follow it. Then you do not have to worry anymore. We have three other Jewish boys here in the community waiting for a bris milah. It pains us greatly to not be able to fulfill this important mitzvah from Hashem, but our Rav in Australia told us that … [our case is one of] oness. We only have to try our best and then sit back and let Hashem take it the rest of the way. So we wait. Perhaps the situation will change in a few weeks.
Who would imagine that in 2021 we would have such a challenge?
These are truly difficult times. Hopefully the situation will improve very soon and these holy Jewish boys will have the chance to join the Covenant and grow up to Torah, chuppah and maasim tovim.