NEW YORK (JTA) – After an initial first wave that devastated New York City’s Orthodox Jewish communities, the coronavirus is on the rise again. Meanwhile, Israelis are back under lockdown after new infections there reached crisis levels.
As we did this spring, we’re tracking the news flowing in from across Jewish communities here.
And as always, we want to hear from you. Have questions, tips or insights about how your community is responding to the pandemic more than six months in? Get in touch.
Thursday, Oct. 1
8:45 a.m.: Israel reports record nearly 9,000 cases in one day, 40% coming from the haredi Orthodox community. The 8,919 confirmed infections reported Thursday morning from the previous day represent a 13.6% positivity rate. Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said Thursday during a news conference that some 40% of verified coronavirus cases in Israel are from the haredi Orthodox community, though they make up about 8% of the population. As of Thursday morning, Israel has had a total of 1,571 deaths from the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Cabinet approved the levying of a fine on anyone caught in a sukkah that is not their own.
7:30 a.m. Lakewood, NJ, home to a large Orthodox community, reaches 27% positivity rate. A new uptick in COVID cases in New Jersey appears to be driven by cases in Lakewood, home to a large Orthodox Jewish community. New Jersey’s statewide COVID positivity rate topped 3% for the first time in months last Saturday as the state deals with a new outbreak in Ocean County. The county’s largest city is Lakewood, home to a large Orthodox Jewish community, where 27% of people in Lakewood who received their test results Saturday tested positive for COVID, according to NJ.com.
“We’re just trying to get our arms around this,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press conference Wednesday.
Wednesday, Sept. 30
1:00 p.m. Positivity rates continue to climb in New York City’s Orthodox neighborhoods. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the COVID test positivity rate continued to climb in several of the Orthodox neighborhoods the city is monitoring as a result of new COVID clusters. In Gravesend/Homecrest, a Brooklyn neighborhood home to a large Syrian Jewish community, the positivity rate went from 6.72% Tuesday to 6.92% Wednesday. Other neighborhoods, including Borough Park, Bensonhurst/Mapleton, Midwood, and Edgemere/Far Rockaway, saw increases, as well.
The citywide positivity rate was .94% after hitting a high of 3.25% yesterday. If the citywide positivity rate surpasses 3% in a seven day rolling average, New York City public schools, which just began reopening this week, will close.
Tuesday, Sept. 29
11:30 a.m. New York City records daily COVID test positivity rate of more than 3%. In a press conference Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s daily COVID test positivity rate rose to 3.25%, the highest rate recorded in months. The positivity rate over the past seven days was 1.38%.
As of Monday, 25% of the city’s new COVID cases over the previous two weeks came from the nine Zip codes being monitored by the Department of Health for new outbreaks, which include six Zip codes with large Orthodox populations. While the mayor encouraged New Yorkers in the areas experiencing outbreaks and across the city to get tested, some in Orthodox communities have been discouraging testing to avoid further school closures.
The city’s threshold for closing local public schools is a COVID test positivity rate of 3% across the city over a seven day average.
10:34 a.m. Israel’s per capita deaths from the coronavirus is higher than the US. Israel’s daily death rate over the last week has been an average of 3.5 per million people compared to the U.S. death rate for the same time with 2.2 per million, according to a report from the Coronavirus Information and Knowledge Center, a task force formed by the IDF Military Intelligence with cooperation from the Health Ministry. Meanwhile, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Kan national broadcaster that there is “no chance” that the lockdown will be lifted at the end of the Sukkot holiday on Oct. 11.
Sunday, Sept. 27
4:10 pm. Hasidic rabbis in Brooklyn promote mask wearing. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, leader of the Ger Hasidic sect in Israel and America, encouraged his followers in New York to listen to the local community leaders and wear masks in public to avoid the shutdown of yeshivas, according to local news site BoroPark24. The site also posted a photo of Rabbi Mordechai David Unger, leader of the Bobov Hasidic sect, wearing a mask as well as a notice from Rabbi Baruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, head of the Stoliner Hasidic sect, requiring everyone who enters the Stoliner synagogue to wear a mask and maintain social distance.
4:00 pm. Baltimore yeshiva locks down after more than 50 students test positive. More than 50 students at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, an Orthodox yeshiva in Baltimore, Maryland, tested positive for COVID-19 this week with many more exposed, according to a letter from the school administration to the parent body published by Yeshiva World News.
6:18 a.m.: Israel confirms record of over coronavirus 8,000 cases and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledges the government made mistakes. With the infection rate at 14 percent and climbing, Netanyahu posts a video on social media in which he says the government reopened the country too fast after the first coronavirus lockdown, especially schools and events halls, and he calls on Israelis to avoid attending synagogues this Yom Kippur. But 16,000 protesters gathered outside of his official Jerusalem residence Saturday night, clashing with police over attempts to enforce social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Saturday, Sept. 26
9:10 pm. Three Orthodox men reportedly die of COVID in Brooklyn’s Maimonides hospital. The New York Post reported Saturday that three Orthodox men died of COVID shortly after seeking treatment at Maimonides Hospital over the past four days. The men apparently died within hours of arriving at the hospital with severe COVID symptoms. Maimonides has seen an increase in COVID patients admitted to the hospital in recent days, as have other hospitals serving Brooklyn. Members of the Hasidic community in Borough Park cast doubt on the report however, claiming that there had been no deaths due to COVID in recent days.
Friday, Sept. 25
6:25 pm. Robocalls in Borough Park encourage mask wearing. A robocall from Orthodox schools in Borough Park to families of local students asked all members of the community to wear masks in public. The call referenced an announcement from the city’s Department of Health Thursday night that if there is no progress in slowing the spread of infection in several Orthodox neighborhoods in the city experiencing an uptick in COVID cases by Monday, enforcement measures would be taken as early as Tuesday that could include shutting down schools.
“We have become a focused target of the press and they are monitoring us constantly,” the message said.
5:35 pm. Queens yeshiva will reopen after 13 positive cases caused Department of Health to shut it down. Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Queens will reopen Sep. 30 just over two weeks after it was closed by New York City’s health department when 13 students tested positive for COVID. The school is located in Far Rockaway, one of six Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in New York City experiencing an uptick in COVID cases.
“We will be reinforcing and enhancing our already-robust safety protocols for all staff and talmidim [students]. We will also be enforcing those rules, without exception,” the school’s reopening committee wrote in a letter to parents that was published by 5 Towns Central.
5:12 pm. Sound trucks blast messages about COVID testing in Yiddish – in a neighborhood with few Yiddish speakers. A sound truck in Kew Garden Hills played a message encouraging people to get tested for coronavirus Friday, even though the community in that neighborhood is not Hasidic and most people there do not speak Yiddish. Daniel Rosenthal, a New York State assemblymember from Queens, posted a video of the sound truck to Twitter.
This was not the first time a sound truck played an announcement in Yiddish in the neighborhood, where a Yiddish message was broadcast Wednesday.
4:40 pm. Orthodox talk radio host Heshy Tischler interrupts press conference, calling NYC health official a “Jew hater.” Heshy Tischler, an Orthodox radio host from Borough Park, interrupted a press conference by city officials regarding the uptick in COVID cases in the city Friday afternoon, calling Dr. Mitchell Katz, who is Jewish and head of NYC Health + Hospitals and one of the leaders of the city’s COVID response, a “Jew hater.” Tischler did not wear a mask and refused to put one on, despite being repeatedly asked to do so.
Tischler questioned the COVID case numbers being publicized by city officials, claiming that Borough Park had fewer cases than other parts of the city. “Where are our councilman, our assemblyman, our state senator? Nobody’s here to support you because you’re a liar,” Tischler shouted later in the press conference, interrupting Ted Long, head of the city’s test and trace operation, according to NBC New York.
Tischler has been a consistent critic of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during the pandemic, even cutting the chains off the gates of several playgrounds in Brooklyn with local Orthodox lawmakers over the summer in defiance of the mayor’s orders to keep the playgrounds shut to stop the spread of coronavirus.
1:10 pm. Yiddish flyer urges Williamsburg residents who recovered from COVID to get tested to lower positivity rate: A flyer in Yiddish circulated Friday urging members of Williamsburg’s Hasidic community who had already recovered from COVID to get tested for the disease on the assumption that they would test negative, thus driving down the positivity rate in the neighborhood. The flyer also asked people to wear masks in public.
The city’s health department threatened Thursday night to close schools that are not complying with Department of Education guidelines and to take other measures to slow the spread of disease in a number of Orthodox neighborhoods if progress was not made by Monday night.
“The education of our children, wasting of Torah study and public prayer” are at stake, the flyer read in Yiddish.
9 a.m. Positivity rates up in several communities: The proportion of positive COVID-19 tests in the 5 Towns area of Long Island has risen from 1.5% to 3.5% in the last week, according to Dr. Marc Sicklick, a physician who has been advising the Orthodox community there. In Far Rockaway, another heavily Orthodox area, the test positivity rate went up to 5.2%, Sicklick reported in a letter, published by 5 Towns Central, that exhorts Jews to take precautions seriously.
“It doesn’t take a mathematician to see where this is going if we don’t ALL do the right thing immediately,” Sicklick wrote. “We are heading towards disease spread and to government ordered lockdowns.”
Thursday, Sept. 24
8:05 p.m. New York City vows to crack down: After days of warning about rising COVID-19 cases in Orthodox neighborhoods, New York City is threatening drastic enforcement measures starting as early as Tuesday, the day after Yom Kippur.
Jewish community leaders say they were not consulted or informed before the city announced the plan.
The city also plans to begin inspecting private schools in areas with high COVID-19 rates to check that they are conforming to the city’s rules, which include shutting when there are two unrelated cases in the same building.
The enforcement measures could include closing businesses and schools, moves that would inflame already strained relations between the communities and the city. Read our complete report here.
4:20 p.m. Whatsapp messages encourage parents to hide infections: A message going around on the widely used messaging service Whatsapp advises parents to obscure COVID-19 infections in their children so that schools are not required to close.
“If your child is sick please keep them home, and indicate that they have a stomach ache or other symptoms not consistent with covid,” it said. “The administration’s hands are tied because of health department guidelines so it is up to the parents to make sure our school remains open. Please pass the word along. DO NOT TEST YOUR CHILD FOR COVID.”
Tuesday, Sept. 22
7:40 p.m. Six Orthodox neighborhoods in New York City comprise 20% of new cases citywide: New York City’s Department of Health announced that COVID cases were on the rise in six neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities, a cause of “significant concern” to city health officials.
The new data comes amid signs of growing alarm in New York City’s Orthodox communities about the possible beginning of a second wave of cases, with many connected to weddings and other celebrations, after a brutal spring and relatively quiet summer.