Health Ministry Sends Chabad Devotees to Jerusalem Hotel Prepared for Coronavirus Patients

The Hasidim returned from a New York yeshiva in a neighborhood which American authorities fear had been the site of a major outbreak

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People walk past Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, March 19, 2020
People walk past Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, March 19, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Israeli army has accused the Health Ministry of canceling a plan to hospitalize coronavirus patients in mild condition in a Jerusalem hotel so that the building can instead be used to quarantine dozens of Chabad Hasidim returning from New York.

Over the past few days, the army’s Home Front Command converted the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, located in the city’s French Hill neighborhood, to make it suitable for housing coronavirus patients with mild symptoms. The Dan Tel Aviv Hotel was converted for the same purpose. In both cases, the goal was to reduce the burden on hospitals.

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But Wednesday evening, senior Health Ministry officials decided to instead transfer dozens of Chabad Hasidim who had just returned from New York to the hotel.

The ministry rejected the allegation that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a member of a different Hasidic sect, was involved in the decision. “The health minister wasn’t involved in this issue,” it said in a statement. “The decision was made by the professional

The Hasidim, all Israeli citizens, had been studying at a yeshiva in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, which the American authorities fear has been the site of a major outbreak of the virus. Immediately after they landed in Israel, they were separated from other passengers, their passports were confiscated and they were placed on buses that took them to Jerusalem.

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv, February 23, 2020Credit: Jack Guez,AP

In a video posted on social media on Wednesday, a Health Ministry official can be heard telling the Hasidim, “The Health Ministry contacted Chabad rabbis, because according to the information it has about what’s happening in Crown Heights, they view every one of you as a coronavirus patient until proven otherwise. Therefore, in coordination with the rabbis, it was decided to send all of you into quarantine at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel.”

They were also told that they would be tested for the virus on Thursday, and once the results are received, a decision will be made on whether to hospitalize them, leave them at the hotel or release them to home quarantine.

Military officials said the army had invested a significant amount of money and manpower, including calling up many reservists, to convert the facility into a hospital for diagnosed coronavirus patients. Consequently, both they and ordinary soldiers are furious that it is instead being used to house yeshiva students who may not even have the virus.

One of the yeshiva students told Haaretz on Wednesday that “at times, it was humiliating. We had planned, like everyone, to arrive in Israel and enter quarantine, but upon landing, we were separated. This quarantine may be smart, but the way they did it certainly wasn’t.”

On Thursday, a second group of Chabad Hasidim from Crown Heights also arrived at the hotel. Together, the two groups number 80 people.

Each Hasid is quarantined in his own room and forbidden to leave. One said they were warned via the hotel’s public address system that leaving their rooms would be a criminal offense. He said they are also suffering because the food they were given doesn’t meet their own stringent kosher standards, so many of them haven’t eaten anything in a day and a half.

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