Return of virus to New York, orthodox Jews fear stigma

Return of virus to New York, orthodox Jews fear stigma

They feel “attacked” or “insulted”: as cases of coronavirus increase again in New York, especially in neighborhoods where Orthodox Jews are numerous, some of them accuse the authorities of stigma, a sign of delicate tensions to be managed for health officials.

For two weeks, the positivity rate – the share of positive tests out of the total number of tests carried out – has been rising in the American metropolis, which has yet become a model of control of the epidemic after recording a record number of 23,800 deaths, mainly in spring.

After having long capped around 1%, it now exceeds 3%, “a reason for real concern,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat.

According to authorities, the largest increase – between 5% and 7% – mainly concerns neighborhoods of Brooklyn where the Orthodox community is large, and coincided with the gatherings linked to the recent festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As well as areas of the New York suburbs where it is also very present, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was to meet with their religious leaders.

In this context, health officials are stepping up interventions in these neighborhoods, to remind people of the rules of distancing, deploy temporary screening sites but also to inspect non-public schools – including many yeshivas – and threaten to close certain businesses if they fail to do so. improvement.

“We are at a turning point. We need to take new measures now, stronger measures, which we will strengthen every day depending on the situation on the ground, ”said Mr. de Blasio.

“Fake news”

The town hall is trying not to point out the Jewish community by name, but the tensions are palpable: last Friday, health officials were heckled during an intervention in a Brooklyn park.

“The mayor talks about Jewish communities (…) but it's not just the Jewish community,” says Steve Zuker, 52, of Landaus Shul, a major synagogue in the Midwood neighborhood, where positivity is approaching 6%. “We feel attacked, and when your religion is attacked, you counterattack,” he said.

According to him, community leaders “are pushing for people to be aware” of the dangers of the virus, and are making great efforts – distribution of masks, addition of temporary buildings – to allow the distancing of some 2,000 faithful.

But, surrounded by a few young boys who shout “fake news” for AFP journalists, he also recognizes that there are “several opinions”, and that not all want to follow these recommendations.

“+ I have antibodies, I am immune, I have already had (the virus) three times, five times … + everyone finds tricks. So we try to do what is necessary, and for the rest, we believe in God and we hope that he will do what is necessary, ”he said, index pointing skyward.

Some also cite, as evidence of stigma, tweets from the mayor at the height of the epidemic in April: Mr. de Blasio sparked an outcry for threatening the Jewish community with sanctions after thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in Brooklyn, in homage to a deceased rabbi.


As the US presidential election approaches, we find, in this community as elsewhere, the polarization of American society, exacerbated by the pandemic.

A 20-year-old, who will only identify himself by his initials, “ME”, accuses “socialist media” and “leftists” of “trying to destroy” his community, “exactly” as they attack Donald Trump or the Republican Party.

“To say that we are not careful is insulting,” said this young man, who said that he had remained “with difficulty” locked up at home for two months at the start of the pandemic.

Faced with these tensions, Akiva, 38, a teacher in a yeshiva, prefers to calm things down, stressing in particular that the Orthodox community is far from constituting a united block in its opinions.

For this son and brother of doctors, the increase in positivity is simply due to the fact that, “for months, we have not heard of any cases”, leading to a relaxation of distancing.

Now that the epidemic is resuming, the rabbis are mobilizing to spread the message, he assures, “and I'm sure you will see respect (for instructions) go up everywhere.”

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