Williamsburg: As a measles outbreak is dividing families in this orthodox Jewish community


"Let's say you have six children who want to come to the Seder with all their grandchildren," said Eli Banash, 32, a member of the Orthodox community working in Williamsburg.

"The grandmother wants everyone to come in. One family did not vaccinate the children." "Yes, the five families are saying," We will not come unless they do not come! "" With Easter, it will intensify. "

Easter, which begins at sunset on Friday and ends on April 27, marks the story of the Old Testament Exodus and is celebrated with large gatherings and ceremonial meals. But community leaders and health officials fear the holiday may further fuel the spread of the highly contagious disease.

So far, 359 cases of measles have been confirmed in Brooklyn and Queens since October, mostly in Williamsburg.

"The concern is that with Easter and increased travel, we will put more people at risk," said New York health commissioner Dr Oxiris Barbot.

Across the country, measles cases jumped to the second highest level in a quarter of a century, with 555 confirmed cases in 20 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Because of the long incubation period of measles, we know the outbreak will worsen before it improves," Barbot said in a statement this week.

A pamphlet aimed at Orthodox communities has helped feed fears of vaccines

In Hasidic Williamsburg, bearded men walk hastily in long coats crowned by black hats. Women in ankle skirts push trolleys on crowded sidewalks and Hasidic boys with spiral curls running down the streets in bunches.

In an island community where some do not like intrusions, villagers blame the outbreak largely by a hard-line minority that opposes vaccination, or anti-vaxers. The tightly knit neighborhood – where locals explain insularity as a way to preserve the community's identity – has seen a greater tension in some families, especially when Easter preparations are under way.

A sign warns residents of a measles outbreak in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Blima Marcus, a nurse and former president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, has held small workshops with nurses in Brooklyn and New Jersey to educate members of the ultra-Orthodox community who fear vaccines.

The fears were fueled in part by a 40-page booklet being distributed in the Orthodox enclaves on the dangers of vaccines. The booklet is directed directly to the Orthodox community, partially written in Hebrew and filled with excerpts from the Torah, or Old Testament. Still, Jewish and Orthodox leaders say there is nothing in Jewish law to prohibit vaccination.
Signs warn of the dangers of a persistent measles outbreak in Williamsburg.
The booklet was created by a group called PEACH, or Parents Educating and Defending Children's Health. Attempts to reach the organization for comments were not successful.

"People thought it was a fringe magazine and they did not pay much attention to it, but I think what we're seeing now is that it has had a far greater impact than anyone has realized," Marcus said.

& # 39; Every night, people are arguing & # 39;

Burach Kahan, 25, said he had his 9-month-old son vaccinated this week. His other two children are vaccinated. He said he started a separate group of family texts where most of his 13 siblings can only talk about vaccines and the outbreak of measles.

"One of my sisters is very scared," he said. "Most of her friends are anti-vaccines and she sends all her messages. She brought them to the regular group and everyone was busy all day and night fighting."

"People will discuss it throughout the holiday," said Shaya Hershko, 22, who had her 14-month-old daughter vaccinated against measles before an Easter trip to Canada. "Every night, people are arguing. The people you talk to about everything – you're discussing partners."

The outbreak is occurring as Jewish families prepare for Easter.

Hershko, who lives in Williamsburg, often argues with his sister-in-law in Orange County, New York. He says she is adept at alternative medicine and refuses to vaccinate her children.

Orange County had seen 20 confirmed cases of measles, while neighboring Rockland County – with 190 cases – tried to prevent unvaccinated children from public places until a judge banned the authorities from enforcing that rule.

"I have a lot of friends who did not want to give the shots, but I figured a doctor knows better than my friends know," said Frinder, 20, Hershko's wife. "The people who do not give the shots are actually". a little looked down because schools and everyone else are doing like a big deal. "

New York health officials announced last week that in neighborhoods affected by the outbreak, anyone who has not been vaccinated against measles or who can not produce evidence of immunity could receive a $ 1,000 fine.

Nurses are fighting disinformation

On Monday, the health department reported that a Williamsburg child care program was closed "for repeatedly failing to provide access to medical and care records." Schools and child care programs are required to keep records in place, and students and unvaccinated staff are prohibited from attending.

The child care program has reopened, but health officials said on Thursday that four other municipal schools and preschools will soon be closed for failing to comply with departmental orders.

Marcus and a group of other nurses have researched and refuted every piece of disinformation in the PEACH booklet, and they plan to publish soon a replica to be distributed in Orthodox communities.

Children at a playground in Williamsburg, who saw 294 confirmed cases of measles.

Nurses also met with mothers in Williamsburg and other Orthodox communities, Marcus said.

"I feel very badly for these women whose inner instincts of motherhood and protection of their children have been exploited by this movement and now they are feeling the heat and the feeling that the reaction is being attacked by their medical choices," she said.

"I speak to these women and say that you are trying to use Jewish law to defend not to vaccinate, instead you are deliberately trying to harm them.It is almost like breaking your son's bone in the hope that when you grow up, will be stronger, "she said.

"We listen to them and take them seriously on a subject where they are usually ridiculed," Marcus said.


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