WASHINGTON – Last Saturday, Yidel Perlstein, chairman of Community Board 12 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, started to feel sick. By Tuesday, he tested positive for coronavirus.
“I’m like a little supermarket. Everything hurts, and every day I get out of bed in the morning, I go to the bathroom, and I think I’m doing better,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Then I start getting dizzy and weak. I go back to bed, just wait for it to be calm at night and go to sleep. And this has been going on like that every single day.”
“They told me I’m better off staying home as long as I can instead of going to the hospital, which is overcrowded,” he said. “It is better to stay away for as long as possible. So far, I don’t feel any better than last week. It is probably worse.”
“My message is straightforward,” Perlstein said. “If you would have gotten [the coronavirus] and you would know how painful it is, you would have rather stayed home for six weeks than going out and getting it, even with the light case.
“People have no idea. People cannot relate to how painful it is and how you could just lay in bed like you’re almost dead for days and days – and there’s nothing to do.”
New York State has some 60,000 cases and nearly 1,000 people who have died from coronavirus, the largest number in the US by far. Most of the patients, some 33,000, live in the New York City metropolitan area. The new situation affects the sizable Jewish population there, forcing synagogues, schools and yeshivas to close.
Some “99.9%” of the synagogues are closed, as well as schools and most of the stores, Perlstein told the Post.
“People wait to Passover to buy a lot of stuff, all they need,” he said. “The whole year, nobody will get a new pair of shoes because they’ll wait for Passover. So, when the store is closed and with the jobs closing and the decline in the stock market, it is really a burden for everybody.”
“It’s hard for anybody else to understand how painful it is for a guy who grew up [believing] that if he misses one service in a synagogue a day, he’s dead, and all of a sudden you’re telling him he just can’t go to the synagogue,” Perlstein said. “People are, like, not handling it. Thank G-d, we’ve been pretty successful with convincing people that the right thing to do is not to go to synagogue. It doesn’t matter how painful it is and how awkward it feels.”
YOSEF RAPPAPORT is a media consultant and a podcaster. He has avoided leaving his home since Purim. The situation in Borough Park is grim, he told the Post.
“There is a sense of foreboding,” he said. “At moments like this, the best and the worst of people in society come out.”
Discovering that he knows people who are sick “brings a huge sense of depression, and there’s a dark cloud over our community,” Rappaport said.
“And when you combine that with the lack of coordination in Washington, there’s a feeling we are on a boat or a wagon with no driver,” he said. “We are blind, and we need to pray.”
There is “a tremendous amount of uncertainty” in the Orthodox community, Boro Park Jewish Community Council CEO Avi Greenstein told the Post.
“The coronavirus hit us possibly at the worst time of the year, where the community is bustling, preparing the home for Passover, purchasing food, making the house kosher,” he said. “It’s a tense and fully encompassing type of time in a regular year. And on top of this, we have to deal with something that we’ve never dealt with before.”
This is “perhaps one of the most significant challenges our community has faced since the Holocaust,” Greenstein said.
The challenges of coronavirus are not unique to the Orthodox community, and the whole world faces the same reality, he said, adding: “But in our community, we are embedded in a deep social bond, where our entire lifestyle consists of praying three times a day with other people, at least 10 people, and weddings and funerals. And Passover is about celebrating with full family and inviting guests to come in. It’s all about social interaction.
“Now we’re being told for the very first time in our life the concept of social distancing, which goes against the fabric and the culture of our society. So yes, there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty and figuring out how to make this work.”
Another challenge is dealing with stereotypes against the Orthodox community, Greenstein said.
“The vast, vast majority of our community are abiding by guidelines,” he said. “But since we dress uniformly in a certain way, sometimes different things stand out, as opposed to when you would see thousands of people celebrating in concerts or bars and parks that are full.”
Pictures of haredi people standing in line to buy challah for Shabbat have gone viral, which stigmatizes the 98% who are listening,” Greenstein told the Post.
“Unfortunately, we have come through a couple of months of escalated antisemitic attacks for visibly Orthodox Jewish people, specifically in Boro Park, Williamsburg and in [other parts of] New York,” he said. “I am terrified about this type of recklessness that we see, especially in social media, and what may follow, G-d forbid.”