In Palm Tree, N.Y., a town of 26,000 residents where life revolves around family, religious services and prayer, the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive is at least 15 percent, among the highest in New York. There are more than 200 active cases, enough to place this Orthodox Jewish community northwest of New York City into a state-ordered “red zone” with strict new restrictions on synagogue capacity and public gatherings.
Yet on Wednesday, as men and boys streamed out of prayer services at Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar for the holiday of Sukkot, most were not wearing face masks.
Dina Aker, 67, walked by the synagogue, also not wearing a mask. Her husband, 73, caught the coronavirus in May, despite being mainly confined to their home, she said. That left her feeling that there was no utility to masks and that new lockdown measures would only prolong the disease’s spread.
“I pray every day, ‘Please, my lovely God, make it finish,’” she said.
The peaceful scenes during Sukkot, where families gather in open-air, leaf-covered booths in a celebration of the fall harvest, were interrupted by a loudspeaker atop a town police car outside a shopping center, with a recording in Yiddish and English warning of a spike in cases in the area and emphasizing the importance of wearing masks.
A police officer standing near the car handed out disposable masks.
Public health officials and experts say that factors driving an uptick in the ultra-Orthodox enclaves north of the city include a distrust of scientific messaging and secular authority, a dedication to communal life, dense living conditions, and fatalism about the virus brought by a traumatic spring of death and sickness.