JERUSALEM — Israel’s measles outbreak took off in September after thousands of mostly chasidic Orthodox pilgrims brought the virus back from Uman, Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of Jews gather in the central Ukrainian city each year on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, near what many believe is the burial site of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary.
Ukraine’s measles outbreak began in 2017 and has had almost 70,000 cases, The New York Times reported last week.
In late September, following Rosh Hashanah and the annual Uman pilgrimage, measles cases exploded in Israel, to 949 in October, according to the newspaper, citing Dr. Patrick O’Connor, leader of the rapid disease control team at the World Health Organization’s European office, which oversees Israel.
The cause is believed to be the numerous pilgrims who returned from Ukraine with the virus.
Israel’s measles outbreak began in March, 2018, according to O’Conner, in a small Orthodox community in Safed, in the northern part of the country. In October, an outbreak began among Orthodox Jews in London.
Orthodox Jews in Israel for the most part do not have a problem with vaccines, which are provided free there. However, not all large Orthodox families are careful about making sure all their children have their vaccinations.
Vaccination rates among the Orthodox in Israel are in the 80% range, and the virus spreads quicker as Orthodox children attend more life-cycle events such as weddings and circumcisions, giving them more opportunity to be exposed. There is a lower than average vaccination rates in the haredi Orthodox community.
Last week, an El Al flight attendant was hospitalized after contracting a serious case of measles on a flight from Tel Aviv to New York.
The flight attendant is unconscious late last week and was on a respirator, according to reports. She reportedly had been vaccinated.
A passenger boarded the flight while sick with the virus, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Two Israelis — an 18-month-old baby and an 82-year-old woman — have died from the disease.
Meanwhile, a measles outbreak in New York began in October with a child in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn who had visited Israel.
The New York City Department of Health has threatened to fine or even close yeshivas in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn if students who are not vaccinated against measles are allowed to attend classes.
The crack-down comes more than a week before the Passover holiday, when large and extended Orthodox families gather and when synagogues are more full than usual.
There have been 285 reported cases of measles in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community since October, 246 of which are children, CBS New York reported, citing the health department.
CBS reported that the “vast majority” of children in the largely haredi Orthodox community of Williamsburg are vaccinated, but that it continues to spread due to how tightknit the community is.
The community’s rabbis have called on the haredi public to get vaccinated, according to the report.
The health department in December ordered yeshivas and day care centers in specific Brooklyn zip codes, populated largely with haredi Orthodox, to exclude all non-vaccinated students until the end of the current measles outbreak.
A Williamsburg yeshiva that fell out of compliance in January is connected to more than 40 measles cases, ABC7 New York reported.
On April 5, a New York state judge lifted the state of emergency imposed by Rockland County that would have barred minors not vaccinated against the measles from public places.
The Brooklyn outbreak has been tied to an unvaccinated child who contracted the disease during a trip to Israel, the Washington Post reported.