A State Within (NY) State

BY GILAD ATZMON

By Gilad Atzmon

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Amid a new surge of COVID-19 in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish communities, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo decided to temporarily close public and private schools in several areas with large Orthodox populations.

Watch CBS’ News report: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSrzYBvm_JQ

Unsurprisingly some Jews are upset.  Less surprising is the fact that a few Jewish leaders have pulled the ‘antisemitic card’ just to make themselves look spectacularly ridiculous, as the numbers aren’t exactly on their side.

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The facts are unfortunately undeniable: top government officials, including Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, are alarmed by the sharp rise in C19 Cases in zip codes with large Orthodox Jewish communities in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and in a couple of nearby counties.

The areas that are subject to the new measures represent 7% of the city’s population but have been responsible for about 20% of the new cases in the past four weeks. Orthodox Jewish communities are clearly statistically overrepresented and, at least within the context of the mainstream C19 paradigm, pose a danger to their neighbours as well as themselves.

Those who follow Israeli news aren’t surprised by the surge in C19 cases in NY. In the Jewish State Haredi Jews who are 12% of the population are responsible for 40% of the C19 cases. In Israel as in NY, Haredi Jews are overrepresented in the C19 statistics. It has been revealed in the last weeks that about every 3rd orthodox Jew in Israel is C19 positive. In the Jewish State, the Haredi population  is regarded as the prime cause for Israel becoming the reddest country in the world. Accordingly, Orthodox neighbourhoods and ghettos are subject to close policing measures and are regarded as red zones.

The story points at a clear clash of civilisations between Orthodox communities and their neighbours. It seems that some Orthodox communities do not buy into the Covid 19 hysteria. Not only have they implemented a herd immunity philosophy, they have been very effective in putting this dissenting paradigm into play. Earlier this week, some young Yeshiva students admitted on Israeli TV News 12 that their Yeshivas were operating as hubs for C19 infections. “We were locked in the Yeshiva all 600 of us, everyone was infected, we all survived,” one Yeshiva boy told the camera.  Another Yeshiva student admitted that the philosophy was to spread the disease amongst youngsters while protecting their elders. When an older Orthodox member of the community was challenged by the Israeli reporter about the Orthodox community’s dismissal of the government’s Covid 19 regulations his answer was clear.  We live in a “state within state!” he said. What he meant was plain and simple: we follow our own laws and serve our own community interests in accordance with our belief system.

I confess that like the Orthodox Jews I am a strong believer in the effectiveness of herd immunity. I believe that a virus that has a 99.998% survival rate is probably safer than any future vaccine. Yet, there is a serious problem with the Orthodox implementation of herd immunity. Herd immunity can only work when practiced in a controlled and regulated manner within a collective that is responsible and responsive. It,  for instance, demands careful measures to protect  vulnerable elements within the community (care homes, the elderly,  people with health complications etc.).

It is possible that part of what made NY into a killing Zone in the spring and what has made Israel into the reddest Covid 19 country in the world is the fact that while the most members of society try to avoid infection and  attempt to “flatten the curve,”  another persistent segment in society is doing the opposite. It actually works to push towards an exponential surge of the virus.   This collision between avoidance and committed spreaders is a recipe for a disaster.

Israel is facing such a disaster currently, NY political officials may grasp by now that their reluctance to act in time and restrain the orthodox communities may helped make NYC into a killing zone in the early stages of the pandemic.

One may wish to believe that Cuomo and de Blasio weren’t aware of Jewish orthodox  ‘scientific’ experiment but this strains credulity considering the fact that the Orthodox’ herd immunity tactics have  not exactly been kept secret. On July 9, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency  revealed that “ NY ultra-Orthodox are acting like they have herd immunity. The Jewish outlet wrote that “ inside the (orthodox) communities, the overwhelming perception is that most people have had the virus and may now be immune.” One Williamsburg health administrator told the Jewish outlet, “that’s the feeling, that they’ve had it, everybody they know has had it, and the people they know who haven’t had it have some kind of immunity that we just don’t understand yet.”

Back in July, local NY health care providers and administrators say surveys and tests suggest that as many as 70 percent of the community has had COVID-19 and recovered, and that new cases have slowed or stopped entirely in their neighbourhoods, despite a near total return to normal behaviour, including large gatherings. 

I pointed out in my last article that the Orthodox covid-19  herd immunity model  provides us with a compelling case study of the virus and the way it is spread. Unfortunately it also presents us with a window into the dismissal of otherness that is deeply embedded in that specific tribal culture.

It would hardly be a problem if orthodox communities were experimenting with herd immunity behind ghetto walls in total segregation and then hopefully beat the disease, yet,  consciously  infesting their own society with the virus while letting members of their the community using the Subway in NY, or public transport in Jerusalem is actually reckless behaviour with some grave consequences.

The Israeli PM allowed it to happen probably because of political reasons. His survival  is dependent upon orthodox political support. Netanyahu refrained from addressing the issue for far too long and the consequences are clear. There are voices in Israel that already point at Netanyahu’s Covid failure as a colossal crime that demands a criminal probe. The same applies to Cuomo and de Blasio, their reluctance to act and restrain the recklessness of the Jewish orthodox communities in time is probably one of the reasons that NYC became a killing zone. 

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