Coronavirus Cases in Israeli ultra-Orthodox Hot Spot Increase by Nearly a Third Overnight

Coronavirus cases in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak increased by 27.8 percent overnight Tuesday evening, according to updated figures released by Israel's Health Ministry on Wednesday, raising fears in this particularly hard-hit community.

The Tel Aviv suburb has become a focal point of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, and that can clearly be seen by anyone stepping into its deserted streets. On any other day, certainly a week before Passover, Bnei Brak would be crammed with tens of thousands of shoppers. But on this Passover eve, it’s all bitter herbs.

Police officers stopped cars and questioned those trying to enter the city, even as government officials were still debating whether to impose a total lockdown on it. Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein warned against such a move. “You can’t build a new prison – Bnei Brak prison. The reality won’t allow it,” he said. “The residents won’t stand for it and this recommendation will only create pushback. You can’t turn Bnei Brak into a ghetto. A closure won’t heal the sickness.”

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The city of Bnei Brak on March 31, 2020. Moti Milrod

At the welfare office on Kahaneman Street, one could take in the Home Front Command soldiers, none of whom were wearing protective gear, making preparations. This office was supposed to receive information about coronavirus victims and those required to enter quarantined. Despite the agreement between Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Arye Dery about transferring encrypted information through welfare offices, the information wasn’t coming in – the result of legal delays connected to protecting the privacy of those tested.

Not far from there, on Avnei Nezer Street, dozens of people stood outside a local grocery store, waiting for their turn to enter. The men kept their distance from one another and mainly kept quiet. A local resident, who came to do shopping with two of his children, said that staying at home with four kids isn’t easy. “They’re climbing the walls,” he said. “But there’s no choice, we are observing the guidelines, we leave home only for essentials, and once a week we go shopping.”

Like others in the city, he still don’t know how his family is going to do their Passover shopping or make other necessary preparations for the holiday, like burning the hametz, or leavened food, on the morning before it starts. “We will do what they tell us to do,” he said. “We read the [ultra-Orthodox] Hamevaser newspaper every morning and act according to the instructions.”