An Israeli police officer, dressed in protective outfit, speaks to an Orthodox Jew at a Yeshiva in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak on April 2, 2020, during a control to insure that social distancing measures imposed by Israeli authorities meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus are being respected. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

The Jewish Community and COVID-19

Jews have received blame for the current pandemic.

COVID-19 has dominated headlines in the media for months. It upgraded quickly from just a small outbreak in Wuhan, China, to being classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is known to have zoonotic origins, likely from wet markets in China where animals that are sold to be eaten are tightly packed and various species are often stacked on top of each other. The virus can be transmitted by infected people or surfaces that an infected individual has been in contact with. The severity of a case depends on the person who contracts the disease, and it can be mild or severe depending on factors including age, hygienic habits, and the presence of an auto-immune disorder or weakened immune system.

Countries around the world have mobilized in unique ways, each coming up with new procedures and regulations to keep its citizens safe. Some tactics being used to ease the spread of disease and citizens’ concerns include Russia’s fast-tracking of bills which would place those that spread misinformation about COVID-19 in jail for up to five years. About 180 countries including Israel and the United States have instituted policies that restrict travel from places with high rates of infection or require travelers entering the country to be placed in quarantine for 14 days. For communities around the world, this outbreak has changed the way people live, but one community that has been impacted in a very unique way is the Jewish community.

Jews and plagues have been linked by anti-Semitism throughout history. Jews were blamed for the Bubonic plague during medieval times, often tortured into giving false confessions of poisoning wells. This caused townspeople to kill Jews, believing that if they killed the Jews in their community the sickness would stop spreading.

Jewish communities, while still receiving blame from white supremacists’ groups, have been dealing with the Coronavirus themselves. Israel was one of the first countries to limit flights from China in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Their attempt to lower their risk of infection was quickly criticized by the Chinese ambassador to Israel, who in a press conference expressed anger at the Israeli government for turning its back on the Chinese people who had made the trip there. The ambassador, Zhan Yongxin, said that he hoped Israel would not turn its back on the Chinese people in the face of a pandemic since in WWII China did not turn its back on the Jews. This sparked outrage from Israeli officials and Jews who said that comparing victims of the Holocaust to the denial of travelers who had a high risk of carrying an infectious disease was not at all equivalent.

While Israel has remained cautious during this outbreak and has implemented strict regulations in the hopes of flattening the curve, many ultra-Orthodox Jews are not taking the isolation policies as seriously. Cases in Israel have started to spike as some in the ultra-Orthodox community refuse to follow government regulations regarding the virus.

An NPR article even stated that “Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12% of Israel’s population — but they account for as much as 60% of Israel’s COVID-19 cases.” It’s not just Jewish communities in Israel that are experiencing issues with COVID-19, neighborhoods in New York that have high Jewish populations were some of the first in the United States to be put in quarantine. This was due to high levels of travel and the close proximity of people in the community.

As Passover approaches, many Jews find it ironic that they may have to forgo traditions because of a pandemic, but as social distancing campaigns and public health initiatives gain momentum, the likelihood of “flattening the curve” and making it through the pandemic at a quicker pace is rising. As intense lockdowns become imminent and countries around the world begin to work together, it is important to follow the regulations being set for your safety and the safety of others.       

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Isabelle White is a junior at Highland High School in Utah. ​She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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