Rabbi says Jewish family gatherings may have been a factor in high death toll

Community figures underline devastating impact of virus on Orthodox


NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05: Hundreds of members of the Orthodox Jewish community attend the funeral for a rabbi who died from the coronavirus in the Borough Park neighborhood which has seen an upsurge of (COVID-19) patients during the pandemic on April 05, 2020 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus, are facing shortages of beds, ventilators and protective equipment for medical staff. Currently, over 122,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for coronavirus. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Edgware and Hendon Reform's Rabbi Mark Goldsmith has said that the tradition for extended family gatherings may have had an impact  on the disproportionately high Covid-19 death toll within the Jewish community.

In an interview with the BBC for a report on the issue, Rabbi Goldsmith said that while he did not want to speculate, he thought that there was “no doubt that getting together with people with extended family is part of what makes being a Jew a pleasure.

"I don't think that's disappeared - it has transferred temporarily online - and I'm sure it will come back,  but it may have had a feature."

The report concluded that while part of the reason for the death toll standing at 458 was demographic - many Jews are older, and they usually live in large urban areas - the social nature of Judaism could also have been a factor.

Yehudis Fletcher, founder of Nahamu, spoke about the devastating impact of coronavirus on strictly Orthodox communities. 

She said: "I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone who has died. We are a community in mourning."

But she added that "community leadership" should have recognised "far earlier" the need for lockdown because of the close-knit nature of the local Jewish population.

The United Synagogue's Cemeteries Manager Mark Williams said he was arranging "15 funerals a day for a period of about two to three weeks."

He added: "I've never experienced something like this in my whole career. I've been here 40 years."

The film included an interview with the devastated brother of Yechiel Yosef Rothschild, known locally in Stamford Hill as ''YY'', who passed away after being taken to hospital suffering from the symptoms of the virus.

Yanki Rothschild recalled singing to him down the telephone shortly before his death. "I don't know if he was able to hear us or know what we were saying," he said. "When we called up I was singing a song that says, in short the meaning of the words....'when you go you should go happy'".

After viewing the BBC's report a spokesman for the Union Of Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) said: "We grieve for each and every life lost as a result of this terrible pandemic. Yet once again, the leadership of our community is the subject of commentary from external critics but is not approached for comment or response.

As a result, our community now finds itself being publicly criticised for allowing important religious gatherings, such as those around the festival of Purim, even before the Government had given any advice about public events; even large-scale sports events.

''No one then had the information we have now and our community leadership cannot be blamed for following the official Government advice.

''We will continue to do so. We extend our heartfelt thanks to the NHS and the many communal organisations that are working night and day to save lives and support the whole community at this time”.


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