JERUSALEM — The recent closure imposed on the Romema neighborhood in Jerusalem was not just because of the spiraling levels of coronavirus in the region, as, unfortunately, there are at present in Israel a number of “red” zones where the virus has seen near exponential growth. However, the alarming nature of some of the Belz Hasidim’s approach to the virus required a government response and a wake-up call for one of the largest Hasidic groups in Jerusalem.
Put simply, some members of this Hasidic sect seem to largely ignore the virus and continue to act in the belief that it is not truly a mortal threat. Hundreds of Hasidim continue to attend the “Tish” (table) of the Rebbe each week without maintaining social distance and without proper adherence to wearing masks. People who are sick within the community are advised to stay at home and not go to be checked for coronavirus. As a result infections continue to rise daily.
When Israeli journalist Yair Sharki came to report about the closure last week, he was attacked by local Hasidim and told not to report from there. Sharki wrote that “in no Chareidi community was I assaulted like I was.. from Belz. The explanation is painful- after they categorically violated the regulations during the first wave, even now in Belz they know they have what to hide: Belittling the masks, families not being tested despite exhibiting symptoms. I heard the sharpest criticism of their behavior from within the Chareidi community and from within Belz itself, from Hasidim who wish to remain anonymous but who are scared of becoming infected. This is the reason it was the first region on which a closure was imposed.”
Belz cannot continue to act as if the virus is over – as the virus has claimed some prominent members of the community. Last May, the venerated Rosh Yeshiva of all of the Belz yeshivos, Rabbi Shmuel Rosengarten, passed away from the virus at the age of 87. On Shabbos, one of the most prominent members of Belz who for many years was the director-general of the Belz Institutions, Rabbi Moshe Yosef Oberlander, passed away at the young age of 60. Chareidi sites wrote that he had suffered a stroke and died but tens of angry Chasidim and even family members wrote back that he had died of coronavirus after being on a ventilator for a week and that his son and brother are still hospitalized with the virus.
Evidently, the attempts to ignore the virus continue even in the media but when will Belz wake up to the harsh truth: The virus is still rampant and extreme steps must be taken to combat it.