My Brooklyn Orthodox community is not taking COVID-19 seriously enough. We have to do better.


(JTA) — This morning I am sitting at work in numb silence. What is happening in my Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park is painful, unacceptable and 100% preventable.

As a healthcare professional who understands the dangers of this virus, I’ve been urging my community to take this pandemic seriously for months. And I’m so disappointed in what our most visible response has become.

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will reimpose restrictions that will temporarily close non-essential businesses and will limit the size of gatherings in houses of worship to help slow the spread of the virus.  

The choice to see the governor’s decision as an attack on religious freedom led many in my community to argue that the treatment of our neighborhoods and zip codes was based on “picking on” the Jews and “anti-Semitism,” “reminiscent of the Holocaust.”

For months, we have had the opportunity to unite around safe public health behaviors. There were two rules: wear masks, avoid crowds. That’s all. 

It is no secret that from May to September, my community failed to follow these rules. Many felt the disease had run its course in our streets.

But signs of an uptick in September still did not induce a change in behaviors, until threats to shut us down led to widespread mask wearing in the public arena.

Let me rephrase this: the neighborhood masked up by Yom Kippur due to threats of school, shul and business shutdowns, not in response to rising cases and threats to their loved ones’ health. 

And the meager leadership we have encouraged this logic.

Now, with our cases rising and the governor taking a strong stance, our leadership fomented theories on persecution, anti-Semitism, freedom of religion and more.

The culmination of all of these inappropriate responses? Shameful protests, injuries, rampant desecration of God’s name.

We live in a country and state whose health department officials provided us guidance on having safe Yomim Tovim, from how to conduct Yom Kippur davening to how to Sukkah hop safely. How lucky are we? How grateful should we be, to be given bespoke pandemic guidance?

Our leadership —political and religious — had a chance to encourage their community members to take the rules seriously, make a Kiddush Hashem and sanctify God’s name, and keep their loved ones safe.

They failed. And instead, they stoked a fire that shames us all.

I am crying today, as we all should be. We are in the news, acting shameful, yet feeling righteous about it.

And we cannot even do teshuvah for it for another whole year.

is an oncology nurse practitioner and an adjunct professor of nursing at Hunter College. She lives in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

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