Coronavirus Puts New Jersey’s Orthodox Community in an Unwelcome Spotlight

NEW YORK – As Orthodox Jews in New York have taken dramatic measures to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, their counterparts in New Jersey are also getting used to life in quarantine. All of their religious institutions are closed.

“You go out to pick up something that you need and the streets that are usually full of traffic are empty,” Eli Steinberg, a resident of Lakewood in Ocean County, New Jersey told Haaretz by phone on Thursday. “People are not out at all.”

Over the past two weeks, daily life in Lakewood has gradually shut down. Schools, synagogues and other institutions have closed and kosher groceries have limited purchases to curbside pickup and home delivery.

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“In my lifetime and in the lifetime of everybody that I know, we’ve definitely never seen something like this,” Steinberg remarked.

Lakewood, which is home to a large Orthodox Jewish community that is thought to constitute roughly 70 percent of its more than 100,000 residents, has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak. According to data provided by the Ocean County health department, there have been 321 coronavirus cases in the county as of Wednesday at 2 P.M. Lakewood accounted for 141 of them.

“It’s a time right now when people are very scared, mostly because nobody knows anything,” Steinberg said. “I know people in critical condition, and people who I wouldn’t say I’m close to but [whom I] have interacted with before have died from this.”

In New Jersey as a whole, there have been 4,402 corona cases and 62 deaths from the virus as of Wednesday afternoon. The state of New York is by far the hardest-hit state in the country, with 30,811 cases and hundreds of deaths.