Jerusalem: A recent spate of COVID-19 infections has drawn suspicion of health department officials as several young religious men infected with the virus are insisting that they have not been participating in illegal minyamin, shiurim or attending weddings, but have in fact, caught the virus at a local gym.
A GYM in Jerusalem? What’s next? Actual Nightlife? At first, we thought it was an urban legend (much like the affordable apartment in Nachlaot or all those high-paying jobs where you don’t need to speak any Hebrew). But upon further investigation, we discovered that indeed there was a gym and that it has been a hotbed of COVID-19 infection.
We asked Yossi D, a young Charedi man from Bayit VeGan, how he found himself in a gym in the first place. “My Hebrew isn’t so good, I saw a sign that said “חֲדַר כֹּשֶׁר” and thought it was something religious… kosher room, right?”
Yossi described how he had the virus for days but didn’t realize. “I was a bit tired, feverish, and the food had no taste. It took a long time for me to notice because I’m Ashkenazi and I’m kinda used to it.“
In order to get all sides of the story, The Daily Freier stopped by the gym (which is now closed but somehow doing classes over Zoom. It’s complicated.) and we were greeted by Sasha, the burly ex-Soviet fitness coach. “Yossi? Yes, he is good kid. But I had to yell at him when he smoked cigarettes in between sets on the incline bench. Also, he kept asking where the coffee machine was.“
The Daily Freier asked Sasha if the Fitness World could accommodate a group of people who had their own lingo, were distrustful of outsiders, and strictly observed a long list of rituals.
Sasha put down the kettle bell, thought for a moment, and replied: “You mean like CrossFit?“
Jerusalem: According to Israel’s Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, Jews should not leave their homes in order to kasher cooking utensils or burn hametz (foods deemed unkosher for Passover), which religiously observant Jews do every year the morning before the holiday. As part of the national effort to fight the spread of COVID-19, Israel’s Chief Rabbis ruled that Jews must instead gather all such products in their kitchen and eat them down to the last crumb.
“In lieu of our usual traditions, eating every last bit of hametz is the only way to guarantee both a safe and kosher Passover.” said Yosef at a meeting with leaders from the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities. “Drastic times call for drastic measures.”
According to Jewish law, no bread or leavened products may be eaten or kept at home during Passover. But some communities are finding this new ruling particularly difficult. Ashkenazi Jews, whose recent ancestors resided in Germany and eastern Europe, are forbidden from eating kitniyot, a term that refers to many grains and legumes. This made Rabbi Lau’s ruling particularly shocking.
“Drinking all my beer and eating all my bread is one thing.” lamented Yechezkel Abelman of Jerusalem. “But there’s 4 days left before the holiday. How are my wife and I supposed to eat five kilograms of rice and wash them down with twelve cans of lentil soup?”
“Instead of burning hametz, we must prepare ourselves to burn calories.” explained Yaakov Litzman, Israel’s Minister of Health and follower of the Ger Hasidic Dynasty. “Those who find it difficult should soften their bread by dipping it in water.”
Of course, not every religious leader is going along with the new ruling. Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky of Bnei Brak is considered a high authority in the Haredi world, and has vowed to defy the ruling.
Some believe Rabbi Kanievsky’s headstrong approach is due to core disagreements over religious interpretation. Others believe it’s because he is yet to discard five jars of extra crunchy Skippy peanut butter he has stashed in his home. No matter the reason, some of his followers were more enthusiastic about his “live-and-let’s-get-sick” approach.
In mid-March, after ordering his hundreds of thousands of followers to defy the Health Ministry’s Anti-Corona directives, he changed his mind two weeks later. “If he’s going to change his mind again, I’d rather he do it in the next day or two, so I have time to digest.” said Yoel Friedberg of Bnei Brak. “Corona or not, if I show up full to the Seder, my mother might kill me anyway.”
Meanwhile, religious leaders across Israel and the Diaspora are already preparing other holidays for the impact of COVID-19. If the pandemic stretches into the fall, building a Sukkah may involve dismantling your living room furniture for the wood.
Tel Aviv, The Old North: A local man of Ashkenazi origin has decided that it would just be very, very convenient if he could finish digesting his late breakfast of jachnun some time before Erev Rosh Hashanah. Jachnun, the slow-cooked rolled dough pastry from Yemen is normally served with a hard-boiled egg and a spicy sauce. And the flaky breakfast pastry has a density greater than a Black Hole. So if Tel Aviv resident Avi F. could just complete the digestion process by some time on Sunday afternoon, it would be great.
Avi described his Holiday schedule to the Daily Freier. “I am going to a family dinner in Rishon LeTzion, so if we could just finish this by Erev Chag, it would make my plans a lot easier.”
The Daily Freier asked Avi to explain his jachnun meal. “It was quite good.” Avi explained. “Like eating buttered Kevlar, except with more layers. I plan on being finished chewing by the time I watch the news tonight.”