With COVID Ban on Public Transport, Purim Revelers Head to Jerusalem on Foot

Thousands of people circumvent the ban on transportation to and from the city — to prevent large crowds during the Purim holiday — by marching along the highways

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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A family walks towards Jerusalem, today.
A family walks towards Jerusalem, today.Credit: Emil Salman
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Thousands of people have found a way to circumvent the government's ban on public transport to Jerusalem since Saturday night – by walking to the city on foot.

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Entire families with baby carriages and suitcases were spotted walking along the highways to the city, mainly along Route 443, Bar Giora Road and Ein Hemed Road.

Jerusalem celebrates the Purim holiday later than the rest of the world, and the holiday continues into Sunday in the city rather than ending on Friday evening. On Friday, the coronavirus cabinet ordered that public transportation to and from Jerusalem cease operations until midnight Monday to prevent large prevent large gatherings and celebrations during the holiday.

A family walks to Jerusalem, today.Credit: Emil Salman

Hundreds of residents of the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Modi'in Ilit had already begun their march to the city on Saturday night, and by Sunday they were joined by many more, some of them costumed for the holiday. The Jerusalem Police called on the public to cease the pilgrimage: "We once again call on the public to obey the instructions of the officers and not to do this. This presents a real danger both to the marchers and those using the roads," a statement said.

Moshe Gafni, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said Sunday that what he called the “bizarre decision” to stop public transportation to Jerusalem “was completely illogical behavior from the government. I did not see that they did this elsewhere in the country. Some people enjoy hurting the Haredi public and then even speaking against it afterwards.”

Gafni also referenced a video making the rounds on social media claiming that at one roadblock on the way to Jerusalem, police officers let secular drivers pass through while making ultra-Orthodox drivers turn back. “The selection made at the entrances to Jerusalem between Haredim and secular people will cost the decision-makers in the government dearly,” Gafni said.

Marching towards Jerusalem, today.Credit: Emil Salman

Within Jerusalem, the city center has been particularly lively. Tens of thousands of people gathered in packed crowds on central streets, from Mahane Yehuda Market to Zion Square, some of them without masks. Hundreds of young people danced in the streets of the Nahlaot neighborhood until they were cleared out by police.

Thousands of people participated in a tische, or gathering of Hasidic Jews around a prominent rabbi, held by the admor of the Ger Hasidic sect in the Hasidic Beit Midrash. The rabbi announced ahead of the holiday that only those who have been vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus would be able to attend. The sect has been particularly strict about adhering to coronavirus regulations, but has suffered major outbreaks.

Other Hasidic tisches and events were held throughout the holiday, which began on Thursday night. As of Sunday evening, none of them had been dispersed by police.   

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