Opinion: The officials running the ultra-Orthodox city betrayed their community by blocking them from vital information, ignoring practical problems of maintaining quarantine and themselves violating Health Ministry restrictions

IDF soldiers distributing food to Bnei Brak residents during a lockdown of the city
IDF soldiers distributing food to Bnei Brak residents during a lockdown of the city

My grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, was among the founders of Bnei Brak and served as its first mayor. If he were alive today, he would be outraged.

Not because of the gentle, modest residents who thrive in this city or because of the close-knit community and family ties that today pose such a threat to the elderly due to a very infectious, deadly virus that targets the vulnerable.

My grandfather would be outraged and ashamed of the leadership that emerged after him, who have betrayed the people of Bnei Brak and led them into this humanitarian disaster.

The people of Bnei Brak were let down when they were not informed in time of the dangers of the pandemic. This community adheres to strict restrictions on contact with the secular world, and does not have access to the internet, social media platforms or the mainstream media outlets.

They were unaware of the daily reports from Italy and Spain illustrating the spread of the virus.

So when their religious leaders spoke of coronavirus, they believed it was no worse than the flu and far from an emergency that would justify closing down synagogues and yeshivas.

Though many of the rabbis were aware of the danger, they lacked the power to relay the information to residents in the manner to which they are accustomed – loudspeaker announcements, the Haredi press and posters placed on bulletin boards.

The mayor and local politicians took their time to inform residents even after many had already died.

A Bnei Brak resident stands next to a poster urging residents to stay home. 'Reading this notice? You are in the wrong place,' the poster says
A Bnei Brak resident stands next to a poster urging residents to stay home. ‘Reading this notice? You are in the wrong place,’ the poster says


The city of Bnei Brak is a vibrant, colorful, warm place with a bustling center that is in constant motion, with the sound of prayers echoing from every doorway. But this vibrancy has also become its downfall.

There is a synagogue on every corner and residential buildings are packed to the rafters with large families and small apartments.

City officials delayed taking action and valuable time was lost before residents hunkered down to protect themselves.

The people of Bnei Brak were let down a second time when no reasonable alternatives were offered to help them adapt their lifestyle.

תושבי בני ברק בזמן הסגר של המשטרה
Bnei Brak residents in a city under partial lockdown (Photo: AFP)


There are no supermarket deliveries in Bnei Brak and people are out at all hours of the day shopping for fresh food to feed their large families.

This practice continued, despite the growing fear, even when restrictions were already clear.
They had no choice; their homes are small and unable to hold stockpiles of essentials.

The leadership of the city neither made a request for a special budget to arrange home deliveries nor tried to organize volunteers to distribute the food.

The unforgivable sin is that of ultra-Orthodox Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who knew firsthand the difficulties Haredi families faced and did nothing to provide a solution.

On the contrary, Litzman insisted that yeshivas and mikvas (ritual baths) remained open. And instead of ensuring food supplies so that Bnei Brak residents would not have to leave their homes, he led them astray by himself continuing to secretly pray in groups – in direct violation of his own ministry’s instructions.

תושבי בני ברק בזמן הסגר של המשטרה
Bnei Brak residents out shopping for food during the coronavirus crisis (Photo: AFP)


The people of Bnei Brak residents were let down a third time when this week – in the throes of their darkest hour – Israeli media and political leaders expressed their contempt for the ultra-Orthodox community claiming they do not share the load Israelis must bear – not by serving in the military and not by paying their share of taxes.

Anti-Semitic jokes and a general hatred of this community flooded social media in Israel.

This was not a natural reaction born out of fear, but a sickening display of hatred against a sector of the population who will pay a high price in blood for the malicious negligence of self-satisfied leaders.

This hatred was only counterbalanced by the police officers making sure the city is closed off and the soldiers risking their own lives to distribute food and medicine house to house.

Even with the world in limbo and the whole of humanity reduced to an experiment in a global lab, there are those who try to help a community in peril and there are those who just see a dangerous parasite who crept out of the ghetto to pollute their ventilators.

 Bnei Brak
Bnei Brak (Photo: AFP)


Believe it or not, the ultra-Orthodox community is made up of human beings who also do not want to die from COVID-19.

Bnei Brak is home to my beloved brothers, who have never missed a public prayer service and who have been praying alone for the past two weeks with additional prayers for the health of the entire nation.

They have been praying for secular Israelis of Tel Aviv, for the charitable organizations overstretched because of the pandemic, for the paramedics and for all those affected by the crisis.

After all, we are all one family – aren’t we?

As reported by Ynetnews