ZAKA chief: People are walking around one day, and two days' later they pass away

"Is this really just a political debate?" asks Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, "or are we simply facing a reality?"

Nitzan Keidar ,

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA head
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA head
Arutz Sheva

Head of the ZAKA organization Yehuda Meshi-Zahav spoke with Arutz Sheva and discussed his observations on how the haredi community is coping with the coronavirus crisis.

“It seems to me that the haredi community is in a great state of confusion,” Meshi-Zahav said, “in fact, just as the secular community is. There are no clear messages being conveyed and there is no unified stance with regard to the regulations.

“I would divide the community into three main categories,” he continued. “Most haredim are adhering to the government’s guidelines in full. There is also a second category made up primarily of members of several hassidic courts who openly state that the State of Israel has adopted the school of thought of social distancing – and we prefer the school of thought that believes in reaching herd immunity.”

Meshi-Zahav clarified that, “This second category has some basis for its views – they’re not promoting this attitude for no reason. The third category, however, is composed of the extremists (such as Neturei Karta), those who go out to protest and are interested in creating headlines with pictures of police hitting children. Their goal is to deepen the divide between haredi and mainstream Israeli society.”

Meshi-Zahav, a former Neturei Karta “extremist” himself, expressed his “distress that many in the haredi community are being drawn after the extremists, and many of them could be counted among the ‘coronavirus deniers,’ either because [the government] scared us with statistics that turned out to be incorrect, or because they tend to favor the idea of attaining herd immunity.”

Meshi-Zahav noted that, “I spend quite a bit of time in the hospitals; in fact, I was recently in Hadassah hospital and most of the people I saw on the wards there were haredim. I met with families of those who succumbed to the disease, and heard terrible stories of how people were walking around fine one day and then, two days later, they were hospitalized and passed away.

“This reminds me of the Titanic,” he added. “On the one hand, people are dying and on the other hand, there are people just continuing with their daily lives without paying any attention to the problem. We’re forgetting that three people are dying on average per day in Bnei Brak [over the last week]. Yair Sherki wrote an article about seriously ill coronavirus patients in Meah She’arim who are being treated at home. What people don’t mention is that one of them died and another one was hospitalized. This isn’t something that can last for long.”

Asked what he thought of the psychological impact of the current lockdown on the haredi community, Meshi-Zahav replied that, “It’s very confusing, because what started out as a health issue turned into a sectoral and political issue. Everyone is comparing the [left-wing] protests at Balfour to the beach and to the yeshivas… When we see police entering yeshivas and shutting Gemaras of students who were supposed to be in isolation, the community doesn’t gain a favorable impression. But people are paying the price for this attitude. Everyone who works in the Hatzalah organizations and deals with the families themselves discovers more and more people whose lives have been destroyed after a close family member passed away.”

Meshi-Zahav also has a personal message for the haredi community: “It’s better to be cautious, for everyone to take responsibility for his family and to make a decision as to whether this is truly just a political debate or simply the reality we’re facing. It’s better to wear a face mask, maintain social distancing, and pray outdoors. All this is better than paying a heavy price in lives.”