The crowd surged and swirled, just like the eddies of an ocean. Crushed against each other, many men stretched their arms toward the rabbi’s body, trying to touch the bier during a display of spiritual devotion. It was the peak of Israel’s third lockdown, in an ultra-Orthodox district near the guts of Jerusalem. Gatherings were banned. Masks were mandatory. Infection rates were spiking, particularly among ultra-Orthodox groups like this one. Yet there have been many mourners, most with mouths uncovered, attending an illegal funeral procession for a revered rabbi who had himself died of the coronavirus.
For these deeply devout Jews, attendance was a spiritual and private duty. To briefly grip the rabbi’s bier, and symbolically assist his passage from this world, was a symbol of profound respect for the dead. But for secular Israeli society, and even for a few within the ultra-Orthodox world, this type of mass gathering suggested a disrespect for the living. What is more important? wondered Esti Shushan, an ultra-Orthodox women’s rights activist, after seeing pictures of the gathering. To attend funerals and study Torah? Or to remain alive?
It is an issue that channels one among the central conflicts of the pandemic in Israel: the spiraling tension between the Israeli mainstream and therefore the growing ultra-Orthodox minority, an insular group of highly religious Jews, also referred to as Haredim, who eschew many trappings of modernity in favor of intensive bible study. When the pandemic began, one Haredi leader promised that adherence to Jewish law would save his followers from the virus. The Haredim have instead been disproportionately suffering from the virus. That’s partly because they tend to measure with large families in small homes. Throughout Israel’s history, the Haredim are reluctant participants in mainstream society, often prioritizing the study of scripture over conventional employment and military service. The coronavirus has widened this divide.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, parts of ultra-Orthodox society have resisted the restrictions and protocols ordered by the secular state to counter the virus, preferring to follow the counsel of their own leadership. The Haredim aren’t monolithic, and lots of have adhered faithfully to antivirus measures. Some Haredi leaders instructed their followers to wear masks, check-in for vaccines, and shut their institutions. But other leading rabbis didn’t, and a few ultra-Orthodox sects continued to carry mass weddings and funerals. They kept open their schools and synagogues, whilst the remainder of Israel was shutting down. a couple of on the novel fringe even rioted against the measures and clashed with the police.
It’s a dispute that’s been running for many years said Eli Paley, the chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, a Jerusalem-based research group. There is tension between the Haredim and therefore the remainder of the society that touches on the deepest questions on Jewish identity. Then came the coronavirus, he said which made all the underlying tensions even stronger. Throughout the pandemic, the govt has been reluctant to penalize Haredim who violates antivirus protocols analysts argue that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, fears upsetting the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers within his governing coalition.
Israel leads the planet in vaccinating its citizens and is viewed as a bellwether for what a post-pandemic world might appear as if. But whilst the vaccination rate rises, the country remains months from normality the amount of infections remains high and therefore the Haredim have borne the brunt. Rivka Wertheimer, a 74-year-old Haredi homemaker, was among the foremost recent wave of infected people. Late one recent night she was on the brink of death. Two ambulances were parked outside her cramped apartment in north Jerusalem, able to rush her to the hospital. Two paramedics were inside able to lift her onto a gurney. A nurse at her bedside said she had just hours to measure unless she left now.But the Wertheimers weren’t sure.
For quite three weeks, Ms. Wertheimer’s seven sons and daughters had cared for her reception. Hardie Amram, one among a couple of Haredi charities providing at-home health care to coronavirus patients, had been sending nurses, oxygen tanks, and medicine to her ground-floor apartment. Wary of hospitals and doors intervention, her family was reluctant to vary course even now as their matriarch suffered another side-effect of the virus, a suspected hemorrhage. Midnight approached. The oxygen machines bubbled away. to assist them to decide the family called the person they trust quite any doctor: their rabbi. Everyone knows that human intellect features a limit said Chaim, Ms. Wertheimer’s eldest son. When we ask a rabbi, we are asking him what blessed God wants. Science is useful, except for the Haredim, it takes a back seat to faith, which governs every aspect of life in their community. To see how this balance plays out,
A maze of alleyways, Mea Shearim was inbuilt in the 19th century, before the primary major waves of Zionist immigration. A world unto itself, the neighborhood has long been a stronghold of the ultra-Orthodox. a number of its residents have always been skeptical of the Israeli state, and therefore the pandemic has given fresh impetus thereto tradition.At an outsized yeshiva or seminary, students gathered freely in clear violation of a government shutdown of the education system. Down a close-by lane, many Haredim gathered for an additional street funeral for a coronavirus victim. They stood shoulder to jostle a decent crowd, blocking the road. The rabbi leading the funeral halfheartedly asked the mourners to hide their faces. Most didn’t.
One Man, Ezekiel Warszawa, 32, Wove His Way Through The Gang, Whispering To The Mourners To Reject The Antivirus Measures.
Remove your masks he said. Take them off. The virus was a punishment from God, he said retribution for the Jews’ failure to obey religious rules. the sole cure was a spiritual observance, he said. Not everyone took that view. Several mourners shushed and tutted, telling Mr. Warszawa to go away. The rabbi reminded mourners to hide their mouths. The posters were old-fashioned death notices: Pieris brassicae signs with simple black type that announced the passing of prominent residents and rabbis, often from the coronavirus. Spliced among these notices were announcements of a special kind: subversive messages that questioned the existence of the virus and therefore the need for antivirus measures. Jews, open your eyes, why rush? read one poster on the walls of several streets. The gentiles can get vaccinated first.
But for every ultra-Orthodox person attending a crowded funeral, or posting a subversive sign, there’s another diligently staying reception. The Haredim have many leaders and sects and are divided between Hasidic, Lithuanian, and Sephardic traditions, each with its different subgroups. Many are frustrated by those that endanger others by breaking the lockdown rules. They need to awaken because people are dying said Ms. Shushan, the Haredi activist. How many funerals will begin of this one? Yet even internal critics of the Haredim, like Ms. Shushan, feel unable to completely break ranks. Despite their differences with other Haredim, they still feel defensive of their community and reluctant to supply ammunition to secular critics. and that they feel intimidated by the extent of secular vitriol. The posters were old-fashioned death notices: Pieris brassicae signs with simple black type that announced the passing of prominent residents and rabbis, often from the coronavirus.
Spliced among these notices were announcements of a special kind: subversive messages that questioned the existence of the virus and therefore the need for antivirus measures. Jews, open your eyes, why rush? read one poster on the walls of several streets. “The gentiles can get vaccinated first. But for every ultra-Orthodox person attending a crowded funeral, or posting a subversive sign, there’s another diligently staying reception. The Haredim have many leaders and sects and are divided between Hasidic, Lithuanian, and Sephardic traditions, each with its different subgroups. Many are frustrated by those that endanger others by breaking the lockdown rules.They need to awaken because people are dying, said Ms. Shushan, the Haredi activist.How many funerals will begin of this one?
Yet even internal critics of the Haredim, like Ms. Shushan, feel unable to completely break ranks. Despite their differences with other Haredim, they still feel defensive of their community and reluctant to supply ammunition to secular critics. and that they feel intimidated by the extent of secular vitriol. Across the Haredi world, there’s a widespread sense of being misunderstood. Many feel they’re victims of an ethic, one during which secular people are allowed to protest in large crowds outside the prime minister’s residence hebdomadally, but the ultra-Orthodox are vilified for seeking to mourn en bloc. They also feel their critics don’t understand just how important bible study, rabbinical leadership, and therefore the mourning of the dead is to their way of life. Nor what proportion of an existential disruption it’s to shut the religious schools where many ultra-Orthodox spend most of their waking hours in search of divine truth.
Without learning, we cannot, said Chaim Wertheimer, Ms. Wertheimer’s eldest son. This is our life. The Torah is that the will of God, he said. The more an individual studies the Torah, the more he will realize God’s will. Hardie Amram, the charity is trying to bridge this divide. Based in an underground storeroom in Mea Shearim the group fields thousands of calls every week from Haredim who have fallen ill with the virus. The emergence of the latest virus variants has made the past month particularly devastating. The more contagious variant, first identified in Britain, now accounts for up to 80 percent of the cases in Israel. This wave is that the hardest we’ve had said Menachem Markowitz, a coordinator for the charity. He drives across Jerusalem nightly, rushing oxygen tanks and medicine to patients’ apartments, often until dawn.
It’s a special quiet corona, he said. And people are becoming infected more easily.The charity’s core team is formed from Haredi volunteers with no formal medical qualifications. They crisscross the town, delivering oxygen, blood tests, and steroids to coronavirus patients who involve their assistance. Their work is often supplemented by a pool of sympathetic private nurses and doctors who also journey from neighborhood to neighborhood each night, often after finishing their day jobs. Donations cover a number of the prices, while the patients pay the doctors themselves. When patients like Ms. Wertheimer become too sick to be treated reception, the charity advises them to travel to a hospital. But generally, Hasdei Amram believes many patients recover far faster when surrounded by their family during a familiar environment.
It is a ramshackle operation, staffed by hard-charging workaholics displaying little regard for his or her own safety. On a recent February night, Dr. Itamar Raz finished a full shift at his own general practice before beginning several hours of home visits on behalf of Hasdei Amram. Dr. Raz tore around during a white jeep with a mattress, which he hopes to donate to a health retreat, tied incongruously to its roof. He zigzagged across the religious neighborhoods of Jerusalem west from Givat Shaul to Har Nof, then east to Kiryat Sanz visiting patients the charity had asked him to treat. At each apartment, he rushed straight in, protected only by a worn mask that always dangled beneath his nose. But Dr. Raz usually went without, making him seem less intimidating. Patients often relaxed quickly around him, partly due to his aura and partly because they were received with family. lovingly at his grandson, who sat dutifully at his bedside.
This is how it should be Dr. Raz beamed. He has an equivalent treatment that he would have within the hospital, but without the risks and therefore, therefore, the infections and the staff shortages. Two days later, Mr. Greenberger was ready to stop taking oxygen for the primary time in a fortnight proof of the charity’s success, Dr. Raz said. A patient at one apartment, David Greenberger, 80, lay back on his pillow and gazed Independent Haredi volunteers help alleviate the burden on hospitals and keep patients away from germ-filled hospitals. They provide an attentive, dependable service — sending staff into homes to check on patients daily, making sure they have what they need, and referring them to medical professionals or facilities when needed.
But some experts fear that these volunteers might be too slow to detect when a patient needs hospital care. Basically, I think it’s a good thing said Ronny Numa, a senior health ministry official who oversees Haredi affairs. But it depends on cooperation and transparency. If something goes wrong, we need to know as fast as we can. According to Jewish tradition, bodies are prepared for burial by a Jewish burial society or Chevra Kadisha. The society’s members wash the corpse, dress it in burial clothes, and cover it with a shroud. Before burial, the shroud is briefly loosened to allow relatives to confirm the identity. The pandemic has altered even this holy process.
Now the corpses of virus victims are washed in separate locations from the other cadavers. The bodies are sprayed with disinfectant and sealed in a transparent, nylon fabric before being taken to the funeral. Wrapped underneath the nylon, the shroud cannot be loosened before the burial. To identify the deceased, relatives must instead rely on photographs taken by the society’s members during the cleansing process.
At the Jewish Burial Society center south of Tel Aviv, the main preparation site for the bodies of coronavirus victims in central Israel, the increased workload has taken a toll on the staff particularly during the recent third wave of the virus. Yehudah Erlich wheeled yet another Covid victim into a walk-in refrigerator. The last few weeks have been a catastrophe, he said. By the evening, their public grief had given way to a private calm. They received guests, sipped juice, and ate food prepared by their female relatives, who worked in a kitchen cordoned behind a white sheet. Outside, a group of neighborhood children chatted about Ms. Wertheimer’s death, wondering why she hadn’t been taken to the hospital sooner. Her sons said they had no regrets. The timing of her death was set by God, they said. They were glad they had kept her at home, comforted by her family, as long as they had. The truth is Moshe Wertheimer said, if we had been stronger we would have kept her here. We wouldn’t have sent her to a hospital at all.