We Orthodox Jews in NYC have been all the rage for a few weeks now, and I gather most people outside the community have no idea what’s really transpiring here, so allow me to try to clarify some stuff for you all.
The Jewish community here is very big, and consists of hundreds of congregations. Each can be different. Obviously I can’t give an accounting for all, but I’ll try to give a general explainer on the broad happenings with COVID and the restrictions impacting religious life.
As most know, in March & April the orthodox Jewish community in the Tri-State area suffered greatly from COVID. Many lives were lost. (As an aside, I won’t use the derogatory and meaningless “ultra” label when describing Orthodox Jews). The situation was so serious, that many Jewish institutions went into lockdown before the city or state mandated it. The emergency was obvious. Sirens were blaring hourly — if not more frequently, & at some point everyone had a neighbor or tow that was hospitalized due to COVID.
Yes, as with every community/society, there were those that were reckless and ignored all warnings. But I’m not here to discuss the crazies. I’m here to give you a picture of the overwhelming majority of sane citizens, and they took the pandemic very seriously. So seriously, that synagogues and schools were closed. That didn’t happen since the Holocaust, but it did happen in March-April of 2020, and it happened voluntarily. While religious services and traditional schooling are so sacred, life was even more sacred. The Torah treasures life more than everything. By the time June came around, thankfully the situation was far far better. People weren’t getting sick, and normalcy was slowly returning.
Many congregations had an infection rate higher than 50% (some closer to 70%), which also made the spread far less likely now. New York State didn’t allow for summer camps to open, but most kids went to camp nonetheless. Camps relocated to other states, and the sort. Upstate bungalow colonies were open, community life resumed, but the pandemic didn’t restart. In fact, there were no new cases. July and August saw lots of travel. New Yorkers were going out of state, and many folks from stateside or overseas came to New York. Slowly new cases were appearing. That was predictable, and if you recall “a second wave” was expected for months. In September the uptick became noticeable. Urgent-care centers were again full with folks getting tested.
But this “wave” didn’t resemble March-April whatsoever. Sirens were hardly heard, and few are hospitalized. That isn’t necessarily the case in other regions/states or countries. But it is the case in the orthodox sections of New York City. I can think of a few possible factors:
•Most got the virus the first time around
•We now know much more about treatments.
•Unlike March, testing is widely available, so treatment can start early.
•Unlike March, masks are available, and people are more protected
Regardless, the situation isn’t anywhere near what it was in March-April, so naturally people don’t see the need for another lockdown. They don’t want their lives disrupted — when the rationale isn’t there. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that they’re being singled out. Unlike the first time around, these restrictions are being tailored for specific communities.
When New York State reopened, it happened by ‘region’, but now they’ve changed the rules of the game. Then there’s the presentation of the new restrictions. Cuomo lied to the Jewish leaders/Rabbis. He got them to agree on something reasonable, only to hours-later announce something very radical. It was a bait and switch.
In fact, Cuomo’s first proclamation on the uptick of cases came on the high holiday of Yom Kipur. His disregard for the community he was supposedly talking to and caring for — could not be any clearer. While it’s true that our communities experienced an uptick in cases, it’s not out of control, and it won’t get out of control for the factors mentioned above. We may have been the first to have such high infection rates, but we’ll also be the first to have them lowered once more. The numbers are already lower.
The virus caught us again by surprise, just as it caught every other community/region be surprise. But now it’s under control. Obviously we must remain vigilant and cautious, but there’s no reason for panic and lockdowns. It’s therefore no wonder that Orthodox Jews don’t want to have their religious liberties taken away — when life and its liberties can resume and survive. Orthodox Jews also don’t want to be living in a ghetto again, where different rules are tailored for their community. You just need to listen to Cuomo & De Blasio, to hear how their color-coded neighborhoods are all about the Jews. Never again is never again.
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