This week is a coronavirus landmark for three very different and contrasting reasons: the UK announcing an effective end to lockdown, the Jewish death toll hitting 500, and researchers declaring a mysterious “Jewish factor” to the disproportionate impact on Jews.
It is not news that this virus has been particularly devastating to Britain’s Jewish community, but the numbers put it in perspective: Israel’s Jewish population is 22 times bigger than our own, yet twice as many Jews have died here than there.
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) tells us that the age and geographical profile of our community is a factor – the virus impacts the old more than the young, and the urban more than the rural.
Yet in the same breath it also says that “the Jewish population’s general socio-economic and health profiles would be expected to have a positive effect, rendering Jews less likely to be affected”. In other words, age and area do not explain why 500 died.
Using data published late last week by the Office of National Statistics, which has been linked to Census data, JPR researchers have now had a good look at the national picture, including the higher impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and on other faith groups such as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.
Ominously, they are now talking about a “Jewish factor” – something as yet unknown that accounts for us taking such a big hit.
The idea that something should be causing a greater proportion of deaths among British Jews — beyond that which could reasonably be expected given factors such as age, demographics, health and socio-economic status — is disconcerting in the extreme.
Further research is needed to identify the source of this “Jewish vulnerability to Covid-19,” JPR says.
Meanwhile, we are all left guessing as to what this is, and how many in the community would have died without it.
So, while this week we cheer the reopening of Jewish businesses, of our synagogues, museums, galleries and culture centres, and plan the renewal of our physical communal ties, we likewise mourn the loss of so many, asking why our numbers have been so high.
That this remains unknown should at the very least give those rushing out of their doors pause for thought.
The virus, after all, is still very much alive and well.