Lakewood Askonim: Covid-19 infection rate, hospital capacity, Aiva, minyanim, weddings and more

L’kvod the Tzibur of Lakewood,

We would like to update you regarding the status of the Covid-19 infection rate, hospital capacity, Aiva, minyanim, weddings and more.

We are carefully monitoring, on a daily basis, the rate of Covid-19 new hospitalizations in our community. לא עלינו, starting two weeks after Purim, we were seeing a high of 20 additional people per day transported to the hospital, with most needing intensive care, and too many requiring to be completely sedated and placed on ventilators. The week before Pesach new hospitalizations leveled off to an average of 10 per day. Over the past week new people needing hospitalization has further dropped to an average of 3 per day.

This is relatively good news, however is no cause for celebration – over the past week 15 new families have a seriousחולה שיש בו סכנה in the hospital in need of רחמי שמים and our תפילות.

It is also no cause for celebration as we soberly remember that we have had close to 50 Levayos, לא עלינו, in our community to date.

The reduction in new hospitalizations is a result of all of us carefully observing the social distancing rules, and is a credit to the מסירת נפש and תפילות of the entire community. We know how exceptionally hard it was for so many families to make Pesach for the first time, and how much sacrifice and struggle our families have in staying home, cooped up under the most trying circumstances.

We also know of the exceptional and tragic sacrifice this placed on our תורה ותפילה, בפרט on our ability to daven תפילה בציבור.

While vital hospital medications and equipment are in short supply, and available hospital bed capacity is extremely strained, together with Bikur Cholim, we have been working with our local hospitals to dramatically increase bed capacity. Our local hospitals have added over 200 additional beds to date, and they are adding more each day.

So far one patient who was unable to breathe and was being intubated in a Hatzolah ambulance could not be admitted to a local hospital, as there were no beds, endangering his life. The ambulance was diverted to a more distant hospital, and is Baruch Hashem doing much better.

Since then the tight bed capacity has eased, with our rate of new hospitalizations dropping and as new beds are added. We believe we are for the moment out of this danger of not having enough beds but will continue to monitor this closely.

We express special thanks to Bill Arnold, President of Southern Region for Monmouth Medical Center and his team, for spending their day and night adding bed and vent capacity. We express the same thanks to Dr. Elliot Frank, Medical Director of Jersey Shore Medical Center and his team for doing the same. We add endless appreciation to all the healthcare workers who are in the battle nonstop to save lives.

While this pandemic crisis began with a terrible narrative that posited that “Lakewood is non-compliant” we have seen a distinct turn in that narrative by the major news outlets. The Asbury Park Press is consistently reporting the truth – that Lakewood is 99.99% compliant, that our streets are empty, schools are closed, and non-essential shops shuttered. Other major news outlets have been less accurate in their reporting, but have also improved in their reporting.

Social media continues to be filled with hatred and falsehoods about Lakewood, yet overall the atmosphere has shifted from rampant false allegations about how “bad” Lakewood is, to an honest narrative. This has impacted policy makers; we have moved a long way from when some of our own state leaders were publicly criticizing Lakewood to the present, where such critiques are absent.

One nearby township’s leadership is a rare exception, they have called for a ghetto to be drawn with armed soldiers surrounding Lakewood, mirroring such “forced quarantines” that were placed around other locales, including the Tosh Kehilla in Quebec, and in Eretz Yisroel.

In short, the reduction in Aiva is significant, yet it requires constant vigilance, and our entire community’s care to avoid mistakes that might lend inadvertent credence to this false narrative.

With the real reductions in our rate of new hospitalizations, and with the improvement in the public Aiva atmosphere, we have reached out to the state to formally request that they permit “porch” and possibly “backyard” minyanim, so long as those are wholly compliant with the state’s social distancing rules. We are pleased to share that the state has indicated that they open to doing so.

We hope to have updated state guidelines that explicitly permit “porch” and possibly “backyard” minyanim, under certain stringent conditions, shortly. We have shared this development with the 4 BMG Poskim.

They have indicated that they can then accordingly carefully update their פסקים to the ציבור, as our community would not be seeing people overstepping any conditions, nor making mistakes, nor any excessive enforcement and Aiva challenges.

We reiterate that how important it will be to strictly follow any guidelines and rules.

Stand by for updates on this, which we hope to have shortly, which would restore תפילה בציבור to our lives, and which would hopefully tip the scales of רחמי שמים and bring רפואות and ישועות to all.

With Chasuna season upcoming, we have received many questions about weddings, and have reached out to the authorities whether they could permit neighbors to be משמח with families making weddings, in a socially-distant compliant way. This is a work in progress, and we hope to be able to provide an update on this shortly.

We thank you all and encourage all to continue in your diligent observance of the social distancing rules in every aspect of your lives – you are literally saving irreplaceable נפשות.

With broken hearts at the tragic losses that we have suffered, and with our sincere and profound wishes for the return of תורה ותפילה בציבור to Klal Yisroel, which combined with the incredible חסד which has poured forth during this crisis, will IY”H bring the ultimate גאולה שלימה.

Dr. David Friedman, Chemed
R’ Yehuda Kaszirer, Bikur Cholim of Lakewood
Rabbi Aaron Kotler, R’ Eli Tabak, R’ Eli Liberman, R’ Moishe Tress, Beth Medrash Govoha, Boruch Gedalia Rieder, Beth Medrash Govoha
Dr. Howard Lebowitz and Dr. Daniel Roth
Meir Lichtenstein, Hatzolah of Central Jersey (with the approval of Hatzolah’s Vaad HaRabbonim)

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  1. thank you to the devoted askanim of lakewood for once again taking the place of the rabbonim informing the public of their opinion of what we should be doing

  2. we all are well aware that there is no need to “reach out to the state “to find out if porch minyanim are legal ( if i can talk with my neighbor why cant i pray with him ) Regarding back yard minyanim numerous people ,myself included called LPD we were told as long as you keep social distancing rules it is permitted . you can go to to nj .gov and look at executive order 107 and 108 and see for yourselves

  3. It’s legal now.

    Why chose to revisit a topic, it can only create more issues.

    If you read all executive orders you’ll see this is correct.

    Hate will never stop.

  4. “We…have reached out to the authorities whether they could permit neighbors to be mesameach with families making weddings..” This statement implies that until now weddings were compliant with just families and no neighbors, but the April 1 executive order is clear that all celebrations are not permitted. Can someone clarify this point?

    • Thank you for your question and for wanting to get clarification.
      As an orthodox jewish community, we make a lot of weddings (if you haven’t yet noticed). The average wedding has somewhere in the range of about 500 people due to the large family sizes and large circle of friends, neighbors, fellow congregants at synagogue etc. As of now, the only people I’ve heard about attending any weddings, are absolute immediate family. Even then, these “gatherings” have been (for the vast majority) within the standards put forth by the governor with no more than 10 people congregating at a time. Different family members come and go so that there should not be too many participants at once. The last thing I would say is that the April 1 executive order pertains to gatherings that are in excess of the “10 person rule” the state has set forth for public gatherings.
      Hopefully this clears things up a bit for you.

  5. As your neighbor, I sincerely ask you to acknowledge the things that have happened that are making people angry and mistrustful toward your community. Most of us are not anti-semitic. We are afraid. We have been alone in our homes for over a month, and yet we see our neighbors who shop in the same stores as us holding weddings and funerals attended by people from Brooklyn, and making strange group trips to the backroads of the local safari. I know this does not represent your entire community, but we are so separated from each other that what we see in the news is often all we know of you. I come to TLS in an honest effort to keep myself informed and fair minded, but then I see no mention of these things here and I wonder how truthful the coverage really is?

    Maybe this is a sign that our communities need to be more involved in each other’s lives, so rather than seeing ourselves as separate groups who at odds with each other, we simply see each other as human beings.

    Just some thoughts from a neighbor…

    • To Lemonade,
      Thank you for your polite and nicely-worded question. The world would be a better place if there were more people like you.
      I don’t think there is anyone capable of answering for an entire town or for a whole group of people but I can certainly answer for myself and my family. I too am scared. I know that everything is in G-d’s hands but this is still hard to deal with.
      I can assure you that my family (and as far as I can tell, my neighbors as well) have been stuck in our houses just like you. We have limited our rare outings to essential groceries and checking on our elderly parent that needed assistance. We have also taken occasional walks with JUST our immediate family in order to provide some much-needed exercise and fresh air. (please also keep in mind that, like many in our community, we have no computer or video’s in our house to distract or entertain children). We are being careful to such a degree that my son, who was only married 10 weeks ago, has been stuck in his small basement apartment with his new bride and has not even been allowed to spend the holiday meals with us at all.
      I am not aware of what incidents you are referring to but you might have just seen some families trying their best to take their immediate family (not uncommonly comprised of 8-12 children) on a safe and approved diversion.
      In terms of funerals involving people from Brooklyn, I know of several people who drove many hours to attend a funeral and show their respects to the deceased, but in order to keep to all guidelines they never even left their car!
      I hope this answers some of your questions and I would look forward to meeting you in person when that time comes and this is all behind us!!
      Respectfully, Your neighbor from Lakewood.

      • Hi neighbor, and thank you for your reply and your family’s perspective. I hope you and your family are well, and that we are all out from under this terrible burden soon. My kids are NOT enjoying online school!

        • I don’t understand your position.
          You read in the news that there was a funeral in Lakewood with slightly more than the allowed amount of people, six weeks ago. There was a wedding in Brooklyn that the police closed down. Also six weeks ago. That is all.
          Why is everyone in Lakewood seen as a threat? How do the actions of one person reflect on others? Is it because we share a religion? An ethnicity? How is that not anti-Semitic? Fear of black people because of crimes committed by some black people is not an answer to the charge of racism. Neither is fear a justification for anti-semitism.
          People are individuals, not religions, race or orientation

          • I’ll try to explain better. It’s not just one or two instances. Just this past weekend, there were a bunch of people gathered outside a toy store, clearly not following the instructions for social distancing. Then there was a group of people, a line of cars/vans, behind the safari at Six Flags with people getting out of their cars to look at the animals through the fence. And then the weddings/funerals. I totally get that these are just a few examples and do not represent the whole community, but when that’s all we know of your community, and we don’t hear your community/leadership publicly speaking out against these gatherings, it seems like it’s being condoned, or at least tolerated. I can’t speak for everyone but I can try to share some insight into how it looks from over here, but if every criticism and concern is labeled as anti-semitic, we’ll never get anywhere. I think a big problem is that we don’t know each other. We are neighbors, but we live in separate worlds and both “sides” are looking for reasons to blame each other, rather than having open hearts and minds and aiming for understanding.

    • Lemonade, thanks for reaching out in a spirit of wanting to understand. Wouldn’t you consider this post, and the many others on The Lakewood Scoop from the community’s leading rabbis and doctors reinforcing the need for social distancing, as ‘community leaders speaking out against violations?’

      They may not speak about specific incidents (which are sometimes misreported in the press – as in the case of an engagement party which included immediate family and people visiting in cars), but seems to me they are being very clear.

  6. Finally!
    The rumors were enough to make me sick on their own. With no clear data, just ‘my brother in law knows someone on hatzala’ I had no idea what was happening.
    Please keep us posted with accurate timely information. Please don’t sugar coat it or try and gauge our reaction, just the truth.
    Thank you so much

  7. I would like to know what do Lakewood poiskim actually said about it . In previous letter , that was posted on chol Hamoed, they were the one who said against minyanim in backyard. Now I don’t see their signature . It’s only said that , whoever wrote this letter, have shared this development with 4 BMG poiskim , but it’s doesn’t say if they agree with it .

    • I believe they were just giving updates. The poskim made it clear that per their directive it is ‘assur’ until they communicate otherwise. You should still NOT do it until that clearly comes out. Hopefully it will happen and before shabbos as they would not likely have posted this until there was serious headway of something imminent. However… we all still have to fllow the poskim in this matter and they did not communicate a change to their statement as of yet.

  8. There was absolutely never any legal impediment to making porch minyanim. There was never any directive from the state that a family living in a house could not stay on their deck and sing loud enough to be heard by a neighbors family sitting on their deck. This was never in question as far as regulations from the State. I’m not sure why anybody needed to ask the State this.

  9. While you are correct that porch minyan I’m are not banned by the state, if the state comes outright and says they are permitted it may take care of the aiva issue – which is why our local poskim and other prominent poskim like R’ Shlomo Miller and R’ Shternbuch assured it.

    In my opinion (which doesn’t matter) I don’t think it would take care of the issue but the poskim are much smarter than me and the have not rescinded their psak as of yet.

  10. Moshe..
    we ask so we are sure ! we have alot of people looking at all our actions as a community.they believe thats some of us disregard the law and more so our neighbors . so yes we need to ask so we have recourse and showing compliance ! get it ?

  11. There was absolutely never any legal impediment to making porch minyanim. There was never any directive from the state that a family living in a house could not stay on their deck and sing loud enough to be heard by a neighbors family sitting on their deck. This was never in question as far as regulations from the State. I’m not sure why anybody needed to ask the State this. .

  12. Social distancing did not cause the slow down in hospitalizations. It’s just that everyone got it already!! Without social distancing we would have been done with this even faster…

  13. With that logic ,we should also ask if we can gave a minyan with one family in a house with 10 over bar mitzvah. There will be Aivah as some passersby wont like the loud sounds coming from the window when we say kedusha and hallel. So I guess we should ask about that also if our goal is to always have an answer for those that dont like us .

  14. To clarify the issue with porch minyanim: As has been correctly mentioned in several comments, there is no legal issue with porch minyanim. However, being that the general relationship with our neighbors is unfortunately not as good as it can be and the ease of photography, until there is documented permission it will continue to causes aiva.

    • Aaron,

      And suppose these “Neighbors” of ours decide they dont want us to light chanuka lecht anymore because it causes fires and Aiva is caused by chanuka lecht, should we stop that mitzva as well?

  15. Thus is a very slippery slope. At some point we will be able to negate most of our mitzvahs and hanhogis rl because some neighbors dont like it . Do you think the umos like our sreifas chometz berabim , or our hachnosas sefer Torah. They complain about Tomchei Shabbos as to why we are. bringing pallets of paper goods ,why do the Jews need that . Some dont like our menorahs in the windows.

    There are many things ahead of this . Maybe walking with a talis in the street should he abolished ,or a shtraimel etc etc. Having school buses bring mesivta bochrim home at 10 pm and causing traffic ,could cause aiva. And the list goes on . There were definitely aiva with chasunah and other gatherings but not this

    • Actually Reb Yaakov Kaminetzky didn’t cross Main Street in Monsey with his talis for this exact reason. He lived one block away from it and would not walk wearing a tallis unless under a coat I believe.

      Yes, we are in galus and we need to remember that.

  16. Actually the reason we don’t light the Chanukah menorah outside to begin with is actually because of aivah it’s a gemara shabbas recently in daf yomi

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