Montreal

Research team looks into COVID-19's effect on Orthodox Jewish community in Montreal area

As part of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, researchers want to know all the different ways the disease affected Orthodox Jews in the greater Montreal area — a community that was hit hard by the virus — so as to be better prepared for the future.

Big lesson will be 'one size doesn't fit all when it comes to policy,' says lead researcher

Shalom Grunwald, who owns District Bagel, says the Jewish community wasn't allowed to go to synagogue — a big change for people who go three times per day. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Shalom Grunwald, who owns a bagel shop near one of Montreal's Orthodox Jewish communities, says the pandemic hasn't been easy.

Not just because of the illness in the community, but also all the health regulations that came with it.

"We do go three times a day to synagogue and that's something we couldn't do at the time," he said. "We had to close down the synagogue."

That type of experience is part of what researchers are looking into as they study how COVID-19 affected Orthodox Jews in the greater Montreal area — a community that was hit hard by the virus.

"It's to look at the strength of immunity in the Orthodox community and also to see what lessons can be learned for the future out of their experiences out of the pandemic," said Dr. Peter Nugus.

He's with Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and the lead investigator of the study that will be looking at everything linked to the spread of the disease in the community.

That includes "their level of trust in particular institutions and in health services — also their beliefs around vaccinations," he said.

Dr. Peter Nugus is with Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and the lead investigator of the study. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

In March 2020, early on in the pandemic, the entire Hasidic community in Boisbriand, Que., was quarantined after an outbreak of the virus. That outbreak was linked to travel to New York City for Purim, a Jewish holiday.

Côte Saint-Luc, which has a large population of Jews, had Montreal's highest per-capita COVID-19 case count in March 2021. Outremont had the highest rate in September 2020.

Beyond the outbreaks, there were tensions between authorities and some Jewish communities, such as that in Boisbriand where police broke up a large holiday gathering in October 2020. 

The Hasidic Jewish council in Montreal challenged Quebec's curfew, but also encouraged members to stop gathering back in January.

Nugus said he will be looking at the rates of infection and talking to the members of the community to understand their experiences.

The goal of the study is to be better prepared for new outbreaks and future viruses. Nugus said this project will focus on the Jewish community, but in the long term, he's hoping it can help other communities.

The study is still in the early stages and it will be a few months before anything is released.

"I think a big lesson is going to be that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to policy and there are lessons that can be shared," said Nugus.

Based on a report by Kwabena Oduro

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