This Week In Jerusalem: Lockdown in the holy city

It became evident to the municipality on Sunday evening that the national government’s special coronavirus team was planning to call for lockdowns in areas where the virus was rampant.

Magen David Adom medical team members, wearing protective gear, are handling a Coronavirus test from a patient in Jerusalem, April 7, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Magen David Adom medical team members, wearing protective gear, are handling a Coronavirus test from a patient in Jerusalem, April 7, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Lockdown in Jerusalem
It became evident to the municipality on Sunday evening that the national government’s special coronavirus team was planning to call for lockdowns in areas where the virus was rampant.
From the very beginning of the crisis, Mayor Moshe Lion was opposed to lockdowns of Jerusalem neighborhoods. He launched a policy of moving residents to hotels if they had symptoms of the virus but didn’t require hospitalization. However, due to the rapid growth of the numbers, especially in haredi neighborhoods – and the fear that the picture in Arab neighborhoods was worsening due to density – more drastic measures seemed necessary.
Last week Lion was still hopeful that he could control the situation with more check-in stations and moving ill residents to designated hotels, adding that this measure would also help alleviate the economic crisis for these hotels. However, probably following the refusal of some groups in Mea She’arim to observe the rules, according to an official at Safra Square the government called for lockdowns in most of the haredi cities in the country, and now also in Jerusalem.
The 15 neighborhoods – haredi, or those with a high number of haredi residents – were on the first list to be subject to lockdown, even before Passover, thereby helping to enforce the rule to not gather extended families together for the Seder. The haredi neighborhoods on lockdown as of Monday, April 6, are Ramot (the haredi part), Geula, Mea She’arim, Beit Israel, Mekor Baruch, Bayit Vegan, Har Nof, Bukharin, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel Hanavi, Zichron Moshe, Givat Shaul, Kiryat Moshe and Givat Mordechai.
The decision regarding the Arab neighborhoods of Beit Hanina, Beit Safafa and Shuafat, initially considered for inclusion in the lockdown, has been postponed for now, but sources at the municipality believe that they will soon be included as well.
Not a plot
Videos of a confrontation earlier this week between the police and a group of extremist haredim in Mea She’arim show curses and stones.
The unfortunate affair could have been avoided. The evening before the violent encounter, city council member Chaim Epstein (Bnei Torah) and the local leader of the Peleg Yerushalmi faction met with city police chief Doron Yedid, and suggested that Yedid should enable some rabbis to engage in talks with the zealots to convince them to stay at home and avoid confrontations. Epstein told In Jerusalem that he wanted to invite people from the hevra kadisha to explain to these residents that shutting down the synagogues was a necessary measure to stop the pandemic –not a government plot.
The police chief refused, sending armed policemen the following morning, and as Epstein feared, the clash turned into a riot. Epstein did not give up, touring the neighborhood in a loudspeaker-equipped car calling on the residents, in Yiddish, to stay home and avoid the contagion. But it was too late and didn’t help.
A fragile calm has returned to the neighborhood, but on Thursday morning, the group sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing announcing their refusal to obey orders to remain at home and avoid praying in a minyan. A change in the official position of the rabbis and the lockup of Bnei Brak have contributed to the preservation of calm in Mea She’arim.
It’s complicated
The municipal education administration and the welfare department are seeking solutions for some 800 children, aged 8 to 18, who live in boarding schools in the city and need accommodations for the Passover vacation period. These are youths who have been taken out of families for their own safety by court order. While all the education systems across the country are closed, they have been enabled to remain until now in the school compounds. One possibility being explored is to find alternate homes for the holiday, or in some specific cases, to send them home after social workers check that no harm will occur while they spend a week there. In cases where no alternative is available, they will have to remain in the school compounds, which means that part of the staff will also have to be on hand to ensure that they receive the food and educational services they need. In some cases, the children have adoptive families where they usually spend their holidays, but with coronavirus restrictions, many of these families cannot receive them now.
Separate senior shopping
As seniors are highly vulnerable to the virus, the East Talpiot CO-OP store (on Dov Gruner Street) has designated separate hours for them. All residents above the age of 60 – with masks and gloves – can shop in a relatively safe place, between 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. The store also provides deliveries. Sources say the chain plans to extend the “seniors” project to stores in additional neighborhoods.
Child’s play
To support health workers as much as possible, the municipality has added weekday centers for children up to fourth grade for the medical staff in several city health funds. Until now, this was reserved only for the medical staff in three city hospitals, but it became clear that the medical staff in the dispensaries needed solutions for their young children. The operation of these day centers is handled by volunteers – many of whom are members of nonprofit associations – organized by the welfare, community and social work bureaus of the municipality, which coordinate all their activities.
Municipal hametz sale
This year, due to the coronavirus, selling hametz goes digital. A joint project of the city chief rabbinate and the municipality now enables residents to sell – and to buy back at the end of Passover – their hametz without leaving home. All you have to do is to go to and follow the instructions.
Just checking
Kupat Holim Clalit has launched drive-in corona checkpoints for Arab residents of Jebel Mukaber and for the haredi population in Mea She’arim. These initiatives are aimed to facilitate the needs of populations that have no access to existing facilities or do not feel at ease to reach general checking centers. The other Kupot Holim also plan to open such centers in neighborhoods across the city, to reach as many residents as possible and get a clearer picture of the rate of residents contaminated by the virus.
A classy app
Many students in the Arab sector who plan to take the Israeli matriculation test (when the coronavirus crisis allows it) are preparing themselves through the “Class.Me” application, which enables students to ask questions and get answers whenever they don’t understand something because of lack of knowledge in Hebrew. Launched by the municipal education administration, the initiative addresses the needs of growing numbers of Arab students who decide to take the Israeli matriculation test, which enables them later to attend Israeli universities.