Skepticism and stoicism in ultra-Orthodox JLM neighborhoods under curfew

Residents argue that the new policy had little logical sense, but nevertheless expressed forbearance for the lockdowns as something which they needed to tolerate regardless of their opinions.

Ultra-Orthodox men wearing masks walk around the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, April 12, 2020  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ultra-Orthodox men wearing masks walk around the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, April 12, 2020
Stoicism, frustration and skepticism were felt keenly on Wednesday in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Sanhedria and Ramat Shlomo following the first of the nightly curfews that have been imposed as the government seeks to stem the massive spike in coronavirus infections.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, residents argued that the new policy has little logic, but nevertheless said they would endure the lockdowns as something they need to tolerate regardless of their own opinions.
The levels of infection among the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities are high, and the government has imposed nightly curfews on neighborhoods and cities with predominantly ultra-Orthodox populations and in Arab towns.
When full lockdowns for so-called red-zone cities and neighborhoods were proposed earlier this week, the furious reaction of the ultra-Orthodox political parties and ultra-Orthodox mayors was so strong, including a threat of civil disobedience, that it forced the government to backtrack and try softer measures first.
But the nightly curfews that have been imposed do not instill much confidence among residents of the two ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods where they have been implemented.
The curfew has been ordered from 7 p.m., and residents can venture no further than 500 meters from their homes. Only essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, are allowed to open. Schools have also been closed in these areas, although special education schools and kindergartens have remained open.
Miriam in Ramat Shlomo described the curfews as “absurd” and asked sardonically whether COVID-19 is spread only during the night and more than 500 meters from one’s home.
She also said that she does not know of many friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood who had contracted coronavirus, and neither did her friend Malki, with whom she was discussing the situation.
Miriam also questioned the designation of Ramat Shlomo as a red zone, pointing out that her son, who lives in his yeshiva dorms in Bnei Brak, has tested positive for COVID-19 but is registered as a resident of Ramat Shlomo, thereby increasing the neighborhood’s infection rate statistics while not actually living there.
Despite her objections to the curfew, Miriam said she does not believe that the government is discriminating against the ultra-Orthodox community.
In Sanhedria, Shlomo, a longtime resident, was similarly skeptical of the new methods being used to try and halt the spread of COVID-19.
He said that the numbers of those infected in a neighborhood should not be the only determining factor in declaring it a red zone. He noted that there are three old-age homes in Sanhedria whose infection rates could skew the entire neighborhood’s figures, although they are largely isolated from the rest of the community.
Shlomo added that although the curfews appear designed to stop social gatherings after work or study hours, the ultra-Orthodox community does not socialize at restaurants, bars and clubs, and neither is it the wedding season in the community, so the hours of the lockdown seemed strange to him.
Nevertheless, Shlomo said he does not think the government is trying to antagonize the ultra-Orthodox community, and he insisted that “just because I don’t agree with these measures doesn’t mean I am upset or annoyed. I’m not an expert.”
Shlomo said that he had not been affected by the lockdown. He studies full time in a yeshiva within the 500-meter limit from his home.
“I didn’t have a wedding to go to, I sit and learn, and don’t need leisure activities, so it didn’t affect me,” he said.
Yaakov, another Sanhedria resident, was of a similar mind. He is also a yeshiva student, and he teaches, but he conducts all his studies and lessons in the neighborhood, so he did not feel the effects of the curfew.
“My kids told me about the curfew. They’re the ones who read the newspaper, and they tell me what’s happening,” he said with a smile.
“There are people who have jobs or businesses. For them it’s probably more problematic; but for me, it doesn’t make much difference. We could be on the moon and continue studying the Torah; it doesn’t really matter,” said Yaakov. •