Haredi Community Steps Up to Avoid Coronavirus

Multiple sects across Brooklyn’s Haredi community have begun shutting down synagogues, schools, and other institutions after being ordered to by community leaders and representatives.

The orders came after hundreds of confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reportedly found in several neighborhoods with large Haredi populations, including Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and Borough Park, Yeshiva World News reported, saying at least 100 were found in Borough Park alone.

“I think that Borough Park will unfortunately become Ground Zero for [the coronavirus] around America, because people are not taking this seriously,” a paramedic for Borough Park’s Hatzalah emergency medical service told  The Yeshiva World News.

The large number of cases has been attributed to the failure of some within these communities to cancel gatherings and events, and the New York State Health Department is investigating. South Williamsburg’s Hasidic community, which primarily belongs to the Satmar sect, came under fire yesterday for going ahead with a large wedding in spite of city and state-issued restrictions on public gatherings. The wedding was eventually dispersed by the Fire Department.

Simcha Eichenstein, Assembly Member for Borough Park and parts of Midwood, pleaded with the community to change their actions via a video on Twitter yesterday.

“This virus is spreading rapidly in Midwood and Borough Park,” said Eichenstein, who is Jewish himself. “We all must practice social distancing, avoid crowded spaces, and stay home if you are not feeling well,” Eichenstein, urged. “Please do what’s right: take it seriously.”

Rabbi Zalman Goldstein of Crown Heights released a video in which he urges his community to “Be concerned for your lives!” The video is in Hebrew but is accompanied by an English translation.

Hasidic community activist Ushi Teitelbaum also tweeted a plea for the Brooklyn Jewish community to take the pandemic seriously.

As of last night, it seems the message has finally begun to sink in: the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Crown Heights, known locally as ‘770’, closed its headquarters for the first time in history yesterday. Chabad.info reported that the decision was made “following the spread of the [coronavirus], and after many residents of King Crown Heights became infected with the deadly virus.”

Yesterday afternoon, all Crown Heights synagogues and men’s mikvahs, or ritual bathhouses, were ordered to close by members of the Beis Din (rabbinical court) of Crown Heights, Chabad news site COLLive reported.

Yesterday, Moshe Friedman, CEO of JP News, tweeted a photo of the head rabbi of Borough Park’s Bobov Hasidic community praying by himself in an empty synagogue.

The Bobov were the first Chasidic group to shut down their facilities, said Met Council CEO David Greenfield, who retweeted Friedman’s post.

A number of outdoor Minyanim, or mens’ prayer groups, have also sprung up around Crown Heights, with participants keeping the required amount of distance. Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh tweeted a striking photo of one such Minyan.

“I did what I felt is my obligation to raise my voice and wake up the community — to show the world that we, the majority of Hasidim in New York, are not blind, selfish, and careless,” said local businessman and activist Mordy Getz. “We actually do care. There are just a lot of people who are being misguided by terrible, terrible leadership, and that has to stop immediately. My work has borne fruit, and it seems that even the extremists were beat into submission today. Thank God.”

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Rachel Lindy Baron

Rachel is a reporter for Bklyner and recent Brooklyn transplant who is a bit obsessed with food.

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