By last Wednesday afternoon the outer doors of 770 Eastern Parkway were locked, while the doors connecting the complex’s narrow lobby to the rambunctious communal shul for New York’s Chabad Hasidim were chained shut. The unthinkable was occurring. The Mitzvah Tanks sat idle on Kingston Avenue, Crown Heights’ typically lively ultra-Orthodox main street, which is now almost fully emptied of people. The mikvah and the Beit Din were closed, although in the latter case, “drop-off for shaalos can be done in the door slot as always,” per a posted notice.
Pallets of paper towels and toilet paper crowded the entrance to nearby Empire Kosher, where the shoppers seemed every bit as fearful of one another—or, perhaps, every bit as wary of revealing their fears to one another—as the people in my local Walgreens a couple neighborhoods north. “You see,” said Dovid Margolin, an editor for Chabad.org and my guide around virus-era Crown Heights last week, “there are no old people here.”