Coronavirus: Mass gatherings are dangerous, unconscionable

If people continue to do as they please, then it will be long months before the country emerges from its current COVID-19 nightmare.

Masses attend the funeral of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, January 31, 2021 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Masses attend the funeral of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, January 31, 2021
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Two days after Sunday’s mass funerals for two prominent haredi rabbis brought tens of thousands of people into Jerusalem’s streets, in brazen violation of COVID-19 regulations, another mass funeral was held Tuesday night.
This time it was in the northern Arab town of Tamra, where an estimated 10,000 people took part in the funeral of 22-year-old Ahmad Hijazi, a nursing student and innocent bystander killed a day earlier by a stray bullet in a shootout in the town between police and suspected gang members.
Those who attended the funeral, many mask-less and also in blatant violation of the COVID-19 regulations, must have seen the mass haredi funerals two days earlier, seen that the police did nothing to stop them, and said to themselves, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Except it’s not. It’s an outrage. It’s an outrage when haredim mourning venerated rabbis violate the regulations; it’s an outrage when Arabs mourning an innocent man killed by a stray bullet violate the regulations.
It is not good for the goose, it’s not good for the gander, and it’s deadly for the entire gaggle, meaning for everyone who lives in the State of Israel.
Mass gatherings, all the more so when there is no social distancing and many participants are not wearing masks, are at this time not only against the law, but unconscionable.
With some 6,000 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Tuesday, some three weeks into a lockdown; with the number of corona fatalities in Israel rapidly reaching 5,000; with 1,000 people felled by the disease last month alone, such behavior is wildly irresponsible – regardless of the reasons for the gatherings or how lofty or just those taking part in them feel they might be.
Those who gathered in Tamra to pay their last respects to Hijazi and protest the government’s impotence in dealing with out-of-control violence in Arab towns have good reason to be angry, just as those haredim attending the funeral processions in Jerusalem on Sunday had reason to want to show their respect for their beloved rabbis. But they have no right to endanger the health of the wider public in the process – which is exactly what they were doing.
Health officials, from corona “czar” Nachman Ash to Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of Public Health Services in the Health Ministry, called pictures from the funerals shocking and scandalous. And they are right, not only because those in attendance shamelessly disregarded the state’s rules, but also because it is a given that those events will lead to a spike in the spread of the virus among the participants.
Some may argue that if people want to endanger themselves and their communities through reckless behavior, let them – they will be the first to suffer. But that misses the point, which is that no one lives in a bubble; we all share the same space and bear mutual responsibility.
If the disease spreads among the Arabs and haredim at those funerals, and among their families, they will need medical care and may well need to be hospitalized. Space in hospitals is not infinite, and a spike in corona cases will place a burden on the medical system that could affect everyone, everywhere.
If the country continues to act in this manner; if people continue to do as they please – justifying their actions by saying they are acting in the service of a worthy cause – then it will be long months before the country emerges from its current COVID-19 nightmare.
There is much to criticize the government and the authorities about in their handling of the pandemic, and we have not been sparing in adding our voice to that censure. But it is not the government alone that needs to act wisely. Individuals also need to behave wisely and responsibly.
Mass gatherings at a time like this by anyone – Jew or Arab – are irresponsible and need to end. If not, we will all pay a steeper price than we already have in terms of lives, livelihoods and lifestyles lost.