The Jerusalem College of Technology’s (JCT) Nursing Department held a virtual conference last month which examined the relationship between health and a religious lifestyle during both normal times and the current crisis revolving around the pandemic.

In a discussion regarding the role of community rabbis, Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt of the Park East Synagogue in New York, shared how he personally coped while serving his community during the height of the COVID-19 crisis in the city.

“Manhattan is built in such a way that you sense the material world as the eternal world, and then comes COVID and everything stopped,” said Rabbi Goldschmidt. “It started slowly with the shuttering of businesses, which led to the closure of the city and continued with horrific mortality rates of hundreds of people dying every day. Manhattan hospitals, which are considered the leaders in the world, collapsed from being overloaded. There is not one person who doesn’t know someone who passed away or who has at least one family member who was hospitalized because of complications related to COVID.”

Rabbi Goldschmidt also addressed the difficulty in dealing with many Jewish dead bodies, under the guidelines of social distancing and the concern of further spreading of the disease.

“As a community rabbi, I found myself burying Jews alone. Funerals without the presence of close family members who simply were unable to come and say Kaddish. It is a personal trauma that I will always carry with me,” he lamented.

Moreover, he explained that “the difficult economic turbulence caused many families to remove their children from private Jewish education frameworks due to high tuition costs, while others moved to suburbs so that they can continue to finance their children’s Jewish education. Plans for making Aliyah became more frequent, with many families getting ready accordingly. This created a trend that resulted in Jewish schools losing approximately 20% of their students. The only consolation is that some of those who left the community, will immigrate to Israel.”

However, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, the Rabbinic Head of the Jerusalem College of Technology and its Beit Midrash, said that even a tragedy of this magnitude has a silver lining. During the conference, Rabbi Rimon spoke about the positive aspects resulting from COVID.

“On the day after COVID, we will be better people. We will see what we learned from this difficult period and what we will take with us for the future,” he said. ”There are disabled and elderly populations who suffer from the isolation regardless of the epidemic. We have developed sensitiveness, compassion and awareness toward underserved populations who were under our radar before the pandemic hit.”

JCT’s Religiosity, Health and COVID conference was the first of its kind and featured several other high-profile figures. MK Moshe Abutbul, for example, criticized the state’s conduct with the Haredi sector in relation to the virus, while Dr. Ronit Pinhas-Mizrachi, a lecturer at the Israel Academic College in Ramat Gan, examined the differences in awareness towards health, in populations of different religious levels.

Additionally, Dr. Chaya Raz, head of JCT’s Nursing Department, spoke about students’ cognitive dissonance when it comes to COVID restrictions in accordance with their religious level.

Meanwhile, Dr. Zvika Orr, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences at the Jerusalem College of Technology, presented research about the social involvement of Haredi students and Dr. Ahuva Spitz, head of the men’s Nursing Department, discussed health-related decision making.

Dr. Anat Romem, head of Nursing Graduate Program at JCT, discussed the changes seen in pashkevilim (posters situated on a public wall in a Haredi community) during COVID.

Finally, another study presented by Dr. Adi Finkelstein, a member of JCT’s nursing department, discussed promoting healthy living in Haredi communities. The study was co-sponsored with the Women’s Health Center For You and Hadassah Ein Kerem.

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