ISRAEL STORY | Ancient Land, Modern Tales ISRAEL STORY | Ancient Land, Modern Tales

Israel’s ultra-orthodox community was hit twice during COVID-19: First, and in disproportionate numbers, by the virus itself, and then by a wave of anti-Haredi sentiment that pervaded the country. Here’s what it looked like from their perspective.

When COVID-19 first hit Israel, many of its epicenters were in Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox, communities. More than one-third of coronavirus tests in Bnei Brak, for instance, came back positive. Some pointed a finger to the pervasive poverty and crowded dwellings, others to the packed yeshivas and mass prayers. And many pundits found an easy culprit in certain defiant rabbis who ordered their followers to ignore the public health guidelines and go on with life as normal. Before long, matters escalated, and with a climbing case count, the media reports became increasingly vicious, and a wave of anti-Haredi sentiment swept through the country.

 

In an attempt to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of the virus, the government deployed soldiers to Haredi cities and neighborhoods. These uniformed men and women recited social-distancing guidelines, told people to wear masks, dished out fines, and enforced strict curfews and lockdowns. But if you imagine soldiers and policemen chatting away with Haredim on street corners and sharing humorous Yiddishisms, think again. Many clashes ensued, and some of them turned violent.

 

In this unusual episode, we don’t tell the story of a central character with a clear plotline. Instead, we spent months collecting testimonies from everyday Haredi men and women who give us a glimpse into the sheltered world of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

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