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Public Health, Minorities and COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic moved from East Asia to Europe and North America, starting from late March 2020 public media began reporting  the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on minority groups. CDC, the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported that while “The effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups is still emerging… data suggest a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups” (CDC, 2020). 

I decided to redirect my critical lens to understand how minorities, and especially religious minorities are being impacted by the pandemic. At this moment in time, I am examining how individuals in Israel, the UK, and USA make decisions amidst a public health crisis while searching for new ways to address the fraught relations between public health and religious minorities, that were rendered visible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public engagement with Science among Religious Minorities: Lessons from COVID-19”, was published in Science Communication as part of a special issue on COVID-19. Drawing on the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews, we examine their processes of meaning and COVID-19-related decision-making. We found that Ultra-Orthodox decisions drew on both religious and health-related cultural and epistemological rationalizations, while demonstrating a gap between the ways they perceived social distancing in the context of general education versus religious contexts. Based on these findings, we argue for a more inclusive model of science communication that takes into account communal sensibilities and state-minority power relations (together with Yael Rozenblem and Ayelet Baram-Tsabari).


I wrote an op-Ed for the New York Daily Times: “Why are some ultra-Orthodox Jews flouting social distancing rules?”, to offer an anthropological lens to rethink ethics of mutual responsibility in a pandemic (together with Ayala Fader and Orit Avishai). 


I also published an article entitled “It’s Not Doctrine, This Is Just How It Is Happening!”: Religious Creativity in the Time of COVID-19 (together with Edward Kessler).

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