'Appreciation and esteem for troops from excellent units'

Bnei Brak mayor thanks soldiers for their help during virus lockdown

Avraham Rubinstein, head of ultra-Orthodox city hit hard by outbreak, expresses appreciation in Memorial Day speech for troops who supplied residents during quarantine

Screen capture from video of Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein during a ceremony to mark Israel's Memorial Day, April 27, 2020. (Ynet)
Screen capture from video of Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein during a ceremony to mark Israel's Memorial Day, April 27, 2020. (Ynet)

The mayor of Bnei Brak, a predominantly ultra-Orthodox city that was placed under a strict lockdown due to a severe coronavirus outbreak, on Monday thanked the soldiers who distributed food and other necessities to city residents during the lockdown.

Mayor Avraham Rubinstein made the comments during a local ceremony marking Memorial Day for the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, 387 of whom were Bnei Brak residents.

“This is the place to express on our behalf, and on behalf of all the residents of our city, thanks, appreciation and esteem for the hundreds of IDF soldiers and their commanders from diverse and excellent units, for the high quality and welcome actions for the welfare of 210,000 residents during the difficult days of the coronavirus epidemic,” said Rubinstein, who initially opposed the quarantine restrictions.

At the beginning of April, Bnei Brak was the first city in Israel placed under a strict lockdown, with residents only allowed to leave municipal boundaries to work in key industries or to receive medical care.

IDF Home Front Command soldiers hand out food packages in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The lockdown was ordered as the city reported the highest infection rate in the country for a community with over 5,000 residents. Police and soldiers were brought in to enforce the restrictions but also to provide assistance to residents. The ultra-Orthodox community generally shuns military service, creating tension with the armed forces.

Although the restrictions on the city have since been lifted, the infection rate remains high. The Tel Aviv suburb last week still had the highest number of cases per capita with 1,202 infections per 100,000 residents, according to Health Ministry figures.

Many members of the ultra-Orthodox community were slower to begin heeding social distancing regulations and initially resisted the shutdown of schools and synagogues, contributing to higher infection rates in those areas.

On Friday the cabinet ordered a lockdown on several mainly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot, where there has been a spike in coronavirus infections in recent weeks.

Illustrative: Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines to ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city of Beit Shemesh for violating coronavirus guidelines, April 16, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The lockdowns came as the government approved lifting restrictions on businesses as it continued to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the pandemic.

Stores that are not in shopping malls will be allowed to operate if they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, the wearing of protective gear and enforcing social distancing.

Hairdressers and beauty salons also resumed operations from midnight Saturday under strict hygiene regulations.

In addition, restaurants and food shops will be allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, if a physical barrier is placed between the cashier and the customers.

The problems confronting by small eateries were given a face by Ashdod falafel store owner Yuval Carmi, whose tearful account of being unable to provide for his family as he couldn’t sell food for takeaway moved the the public and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reassured Carmi on a phone call.

Jerusalem has seen the highest number of infections in the country, and Bnei Brak has the second highest total infection numbers. Three-quarters of the cases in Jerusalem have come from majority ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

As of Monday evening there have been 15,555 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel and 204 people have died. There are 126 people in with serious symptoms and 96 are connected to ventilators.

Despite the general easing of restrictions, the cabinet last week voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s Independence and Memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

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