The combination of pain, worry, anger, and frustration that I’ve heard expressed on every one of these calls mirrors our own. We’ve seen the news, we’ve heard the stories, and we are appalled by — and afraid for — members of the Jewish community who are not complying with all appropriate health and safety regulations. These individuals are putting themselves at risk, forcing schools and businesses to shut down, and even worse, they are endangering the lives of others. We must also denounce those who are burning masks in the middle of a pandemic and who assault a Haredi reporter who’s been calling out noncompliance within his own community.
No one wants to go back to where we were this spring, with the endless sirens and staggering death tolls. We must wear masks and maintain social distancing for ourselves and for the sake of all New Yorkers.
But we must also correctly represent what’s happening.
The Haredi community is not monolithic. It comprises many different sects and factions, each following its own leaders. And while some leaders have encouraged their followers to flout the rules, many other segments of the Haredi community have urged strict compliance with all safety protocols and are mortified by those in the community who do not.
A number of umbrella organizations within the Haredi community — including the largest, Agudath Israel of America — have been urging the Haredi community since March to fully comply with health guidelines. As recently as yesterday, Agudath Israel issued a statement to the Haredi community acknowledging the “indisputable rise of sickness again in our populations,” and imploring leaders “to do everything in their power to ensure compliance with good health practices, including social distancing, masking, and abstention from large gatherings.” Other Haredi community organizations, like the Boro Park JCC, a UJA partner, have been distributing hundreds of thousands of masks across the community. There’s an Orthodox organization putting up signs on lampposts around Brooklyn that say “Pikuach Nefesh,” saving a life supersedes everything else.
Those members of the Haredi community who are following regulations are upset at their neighbors; worry about their own health; and feel singled out by the press, government, and by other members of the Jewish community. We cannot blame the entire Haredi community for the dangerous actions of some, no more than we can blame the entire Upper West or East Side because of those who are gathering in large groups at outdoor bars, without masks and ignoring social distancing.
What we also know is that what’s happening is fueling the flames of anti-Semitism against all Jews. Collective blame is an ugly path that we’ve been on before. We must call it out when we see it, and we must not engage in it ourselves.
I heard a disturbing story from the executive of a local Brooklyn JCC. One Jewish member of the JCC saw a Haredi woman in a mask walking into the JCC building, and asked the executive why “this kind of person” was permitted to enter the building. We must take pains to resist broad demonization.
This pandemic has ceaselessly challenged us to show our better selves. We cannot waver now.
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach