Ultra-Orthodox Londoners roll up sleeves to fight COVID

But the wide-brimmed hats and long black coats that protected them against the cold were more about religion than the weather. These ultra-rectangular Jews are members of a community hit particularly hard by the virus, which killed nearly 117,000 people in Britain.

In hopes of breaking down barriers that sometimes separate the Orthodox from society at large, community leaders organized the pop-up vaccination event for Saturday night to coincide with the end of Shabbat, a day Jewish rest. They believed this was the best time to lure the believers as it would fit perfectly in after-service records – and people would be more relaxed since no one was working.

“I want to see the grandchildren and I haven’t seen them for months, so you know this is a good time to have them,” said Asatr Walmberg, 66, after rolling his back up. “And hope to see them soon. ”

With the proliferation of ultra-Orthodox social media and the internet, people here have been slow to recognize the dangers of COVID-19 and their community has experienced some of the highest disease rates. in London. Many fell ill in March last year after the Jewish festival of Purim, a day of feasting and rejoicing.

Local leaders, who were willing not to let history repeat, raised 10,000 pounds ($ 13,840) and asked to be examined by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to find out why they were so hard.

A study of blood samples from 1,242 people found a 64% infection rate – one of the highest on record anywhere in the world. In comparison, the Office for National Statistics estimates that COVID-19 has been present in around 16% of the English population.

Professor Michael Marks, one of the researchers on the project, said preliminary results show that the ultra-Orthodox saw many cases because public health officials did not understand the virus in the spring. last year and because their small community is so close.

COVID-19 may have circulated much more widely than initially thought, meaning that government messages about the virus were far behind the real threat. This allowed the virus to spread rapidly in the community.

“And then they had a big religious event, and they were all present, because at the time the council was going, so I think that might explain the big uptick. at first, ”Marks said.

Community leaders now believe that one way to prevent a recurrence is to make sure that as many people as possible get the vaccine. So they made excuses for not being present. As well as the time, the upcoming message went out through community channels, so people heard about it. Due to sensitivity, there were both male and female vaccines.

“It’s just about people feeling comfortable, people feeling calm,” said Joel Friedman, director of public affairs for Interlink Foundation, an umbrella group for Orthodox voluntary organizations.

Other religious leaders participated, such as the Mustafa Religious Area Forum for London, a Muslim. They hope the cross-faith model will help lead community groups. It is a model that the British government hopes to use across the country as the NHS seeks to ensure that the vaccination campaign does not lose access to other hard-to-reach communities.

“Doing this here is a real lesson to see how we can reproduce some of this,” said Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was present at the event. “So we take this as a great model of faith organizations working with local government and, of course, the NHS.”

Jewish leaders also hope the vaccination campaign will help dispel the misconception that ultra-rectangular Jews avoid the danger posed by COVID-19.

Police raided an Orthodox wedding at a local school last month, with 100 people in attendance violating lockdown rules that prohibited large gatherings. A study by the Jewish News showed that it was not an isolated incident. Ugly headlines about the incident were seen as destroying the whole community, rather than breaking rules.

“It simply came to our notice then. We hope that such scenes will not happen again, ”said Friedman. “But there is a strong feeling that we are being treated a little unequally, and the whole community is being marked with the same paintbrush, which is very unfair.”

The vaccine is a “huge step forward” for the Orthodox community and British society as a whole, said Rabbi Michael Biberfeld as he sat to get a bullet. He said it was the duty of rectangular Jews to “get the vaccine as soon as possible to make sure” they stay healthy and do not accept others.

“As I said about one of the Israeli rabbits saying,‘ This is one kick for the one who is getting the vaccine, but a big leap forward for us all, for humanity, ’” he said.


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