WASHINGTON – In the weeks since the coronavirus epidemic exploded in the United States, no American-Jewish community has been hit as hard as New York’s. Unofficial estimates point to dozens of deaths in the Jewish community there and in neighboring New Jersey, specifically in areas affiliated with ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Other American-Jewish communities are watching the catastrophe unfolding in New York with concern, as the virus spreads across the country. There have already been more than 160,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with cases diagnosed in all 50 states. Apart from New York, the most alarming hot spots seem to be New Orleans and Detroit, but no large metropolitan area is immune.
So far, no Jewish community other than New York has suffered a high number of losses. But representatives of Jewish organizations in four large cities experiencing a rapid growth in confirmed coronavirus cases all told Haaretz this week that their communities are preparing for a lengthy and painful situation – one that will hurt the community on multiple fronts: from loss of life to the shuttering of organizations due to financial strains.
Some two weeks ago, the New York Times reported on a “huge spike” in coronavirus cases in New York’s ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) neighborhoods. At the moment, there are no indications of a similar trend in other Jewish communities, according to the head of a national Jewish organization that is monitoring the issue and who asked not to be identified.
“We’re praying there won’t be another New York situation in any other communities – and so far we’re not seeing any signs of such a situation developing somewhere else,” the official says. “But even without reaching that level of catastrophe in other parts of the country, we know it’s going to be a very difficult period for Jewish communities everywhere.”
The other looming crisis
Over the weekend, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams identified Chicago as a potential hot spot for the virus, placing the country’s third largest city in a similar risk group to Detroit and New Orleans. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker subsequently published an order for citizens to stay at home unless they need to go out for essential purposes. And the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, estimated that as many as 40,000 residents could be hospitalized because of COVID-19 within the coming weeks.