Cholent, pizza and prayer cards: Haredi community targeted in vaccination drive

Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, which has been beefed up lately by incentivizing inoculations with free food and setting up mobile immunization units in forests, has in recent days focused efforts on the country’s ultra-Orthodox community.

On Tuesday, the Magen David Adom emergency service sent mobile vaccination units to inoculate students in yeshivas around the country.

A number of yeshivas, some in violation of the regulations, have seen major outbreaks throughout the course of the pandemic.

“If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said of the initiative in an interview with Channel 12.

The Magen David Adom mobile vaccination unit inoculates yeshiva students at an unspecified location, February 16, 2020 (Courtesy)

A senior paramedic told the outlet that the unit could inoculate up to 200 people an hour.

One unnamed individual said he hadn’t been vaccinated until now not due to any hesitancy or skepticism, but rather because he hadn’t wanted to make an appointment.

“Now they came to my house,” he said.

The report said that the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, one of the hardest-hit localities in Israel throughout the pandemic, had 65% of its population either vaccinated or recovered, slightly lower than the 69% national average. The outlet did not give a source for the figures nor provide a breakdown between the number of vaccinated and the previously infected.

Pizzas arrive for the newly-vaccinated in Bnei Brak, February 16, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

Following the success of its late-night vaccination drive last week in which cholent, a traditional beef stew, was served alongside bread rolls and drinks, the Bnei Brak municipality has started handing out family-sized pizzas to those who get vaccinated.

In the Haredi town of Beitar Illit, laminated prayer cards were handed out by one HMO, with a benediction to be said before receiving the inoculation.

To boost the vaccination rates, the Haredi Lemaanchem medical organization was even going into yeshivas that had seen some of the worst violations and mass gatherings, and setting up vaccination initiatives there.

“We want to turn the ultra-Orthodox areas into [low-infection] areas,” said Rabbi Yossi Erlich, the head of the organization.

The vaccination programs received the backing of leading ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who has previously faced intense criticism for his handling of the pandemic and for rulings given to his followers.

He has instructed schools to open in defiance of government decisions on several occasions, leading hundreds of institutions to illicitly open their doors throughout the pandemic.

Illustrative — A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Kfar Habad on February 16, 2021 (Flash90)

There have been widespread violations of coronavirus regulations in Israel, but some of the most flagrant have been in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community.

Some Haredi groups largely adhere to the restrictions, while others ignore them, including by opening schools and holding massive funerals.

The ultra-Orthodox municipalities were not the only ones trying to get people through the doors and vaccinated — Tel Aviv offered pizza, hummus and the traditional knafeh dessert at two inoculation centers in the city on Tuesday.

Young people have their picture taken after receiving a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during an event to encourage the vaccination in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

“I came today to get vaccinated and I tell everyone to come and get the shot so that we can keep our health better,” Iman Dasui, a 60-year-old teacher, told the Reuters news agency. “There is also knafeh here… very tasty.”

The coastal city of Holon, meanwhile, ran a special nighttime event on Monday to target younger residents under the headline “Game over,” featuring a DJ, swag bags and vouchers for an ice cream parlor.


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