BNEI BRAK (VINnews) —Hundreds of people took part in a funeral procession in Bnei Brak early Sunday, jamming closely together in contravention of social distancing rules as police reportedly looked on without taking action, according to a report by “Times of Israel.”
Between 300 and 400 people attended the midnight funeral of Rabbi Tzvi Shenkar, a leading member of the extremist Jerusalem Faction which advocates militant protests against the government over the issue of conscription of yeshiva students. The funeral fueled concerns that Charedi refusal to adhere to social distancing rules could lead to swiftly spreading and deadly outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
Israel officially allows up to 20 people to attend a funeral, provided they maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) between each other.
However, videos of the funeral shared on social media showed attendees walking closely together as they accompanied an ambulance carrying Shenkar’s body through the city’s streets.At the cemetery, members of the crowd managed to get past burial society members trying to keep them out, according to the Ynet news site.
Despite this, police did not intervene in the funeral, claiming that they had initially tried to limit the size of the funeral, but later reached a deal with organizers to allow more than 10 people, so long as they did not bunch together. Health officials later criticized the police’s lack of action, according to a report on the Haaretz site.
Last week, police began enforcing stay-at-home orders, giving fines to anyone more than 100 meters from their home except in special circumstances.
A police source told Ha’aretz that normally thousands would have shown up to the funeral, meaning most people were staying indoors. “Some listen, some listen less,” the source said.
An area resident told Ynet that “there are dozens of cops here not doing anything. … This is total chaos, a real disaster. This whole procession shows a total lack of control.”
The director of Bnei Brak’s Maayanei HaYeshua hospital, Professor Motty Ravid, referred Sunday to the participants in the mass funeral as “hooligans, who I don’t yet know today whether to call murderers” and also criticized the fact that people were walking the streets, some stores are open and people are still gathering without masks. He concluded that “the message has not been internalized enough.”
However organizers of the funeral defended participants, claiming that they view the rabbi as their father and could not bring themselves not to attend their father’s funeral.
Bnei Brak has seen the second highest number of infections in the country, according to Health Ministry figures, after only Jerusalem, where the coronavirus has also spread through the community.
Officials have attributed the high infection rates in the region to a lack of adherence to Health Ministry guidelines (there have been many reports of large gatherings taking place in those communities for weddings, prayer services and other events in spite of announced restrictions), the crowded conditions of many Chareidi communities and a lack of access by many to media and communication means.
On several occasions clashes have been reported between members of the communities and police forces attempting to enforce lockdown and distancing orders.
According to Haaretz, internal Health Ministry data have shown the rate of infection in Bnei Brak has been several times higher than the average in the country, with the number of patients increasing eightfold every three days (compared to a twofold national average). In Jerusalem, which also has a high ultra-Orthodox population, the cases have quadrupled in the same period.