Revealed: The pandemic’s toll on Jews worldwide

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Revealed: The pandemic’s toll on Jews worldwide

Report sheds new light on unusually high mortality rates compared with non-Jews, twice as high as might normally be expected – a trend dubbed the 'British pattern' by its authors

Tali is a reporter at Jewish News

A masked woman passes by the Star of David outside a shul. Jewish communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)
A masked woman passes by the Star of David outside a shul. Jewish communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto)

The impact of the coronavirus on Jewish communities worldwide during the pandemic’s first wave is laid bare for the first time today in a major report.  

It reveals that among the communities to suffer a “significant Jewish penalty” with high mortality rates between March and May this year were England, Scotland, France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Italy and the United States.

According to findings from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s (JPR) European Jewish Demography Unit, Jews in these countries showed unusually high mortality rates compared with non-Jews,  twice as high as might normally be expected – a trend dubbed the “British pattern” by the report’s authors.

Here in the UK, communities in London, Manchester and Scotland were particularly affected. As of last week there have been 570 Jewish funerals carried out in the UK where the deceased contracted Covid-19.

However, the study, the first to draw on data from Jewish burial societies worldwide, found no common pattern among populations in different countries. Rather, Jewish mortality rates largely follow the patterns seen in areas in which they live.  

Covid’s impact on Jews worldwide – chart 1

Professor Sergio DellaPergola, chair of the JPR European Jewish Demography Unit and the world’s leading expert in Jewish demography, expressed disappointment at “shortcomings” in measuring the spread of the virus internationally, including in Israel, which he claims led to
a “grossly inadequate” response to the threat.  

He added: “If there is one lesson for Jewish community research that emerges out of this crisis, it is that the routine gathering of vital statistics is one of the fundamental responsibilities community bodies must take.” 

The authors rule out the idea that Jewish mortality rates in certain countries is higher than expected due to largely elderly populations or common underlying health issues within certain communities. 

Comparison of deaths for Jews and non-Jews in 2020, and the previous years

However, they do consider the possibility Jewish networks could have facilitated the spread of infections, as higher mortality “may have been enhanced by intense social contact”. 

The report adds that there is only “limited understanding” of the effect regular synagogue attendance and Purim festival celebrations had at the very start of the coronavirus outbreak. 

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Its authors, Dr Daniel Staetsky and Ari Paltiel, are now urging Jewish communities to collect and analyse data on Jewish deaths at all times, as they say this is the only way an appropriate response to the pandemic can be tailored to the Jewish community. 

 JPR executive director, Dr Jonathan Boyd, said: “By focusing on Jews in many parts of the world, this report offers a unique perspective on the spread of the virus. 

“The pandemic has laid bare the critical importance of thoughtful, systematic data collection and analysis, and we remain steadfastly committed to that goal.” 

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