Lakewood hopes new lockdown stamps out coronavirus hot spot

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Asher Sternbuch and his young family don’t like Gov. Murphy’s coronavirus lockdown. Almost nobody’s on streets normally bustling with Yeshiva students in Lakewood where the orthodox jewish community’s ratcheted down its normally robust social and religious activity.

On Tuesday, there were a few girls skating in their driveway, and a mom walking her kids.

“Saturday, which is our sabbath, usually kids are playing out in the streets. Everybody was inside,” said restaurant owner Aron Abady.

Abady owns Circa — a restaurant that set up a drive-through station with workers in protective gear — to serve free school meals. People stay inside the bubble of their cars.

“And everybody hopes that we all stay safe. We try to keep social distancing. The state is providing us with the suits and the masks,” he said.

It’s a remarkable turnaround. Last week, Lakewood Police busted two big Jewish weddings with more than 50 people at private homes. This past weekend police reported no incidents at all and deserted streets.

Community leader Moshe Weisberg admitted it took a while for the lockdown message to get through.

“There was a very small amount of that for a very short period of time. Until really everybody spoke with one voice and said this has to stop right now,” Weisberg said.

“They just said to everybody — your life is more important than getting together. We can still worship, we can still learn — but you’re going to have to do it at home. And as a result this town shut down almost overnight,” said Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles. “Our police officers took videos over the weekend and I can’t tell you how happy I was on one level to see empty streets and empty parking lots.”

Stern admonitions from rabbis apparently mean more than a summons and possibly $1,000 fine. But the virus may already be circulating in Lakewood. As of Monday, Lakewood had 69 positive cases of COVID-19 — about half the Ocean County total.

“Half the people I know are sick. I know at least five, six, seven full families that are sick, in bed,” Asher said.

The Orthodox community maintains close ties to others in North Jersey and New York — a region where the virus is raging and positive cases can double almost daily, according to national experts.

“We’re finding that 28% of the submitted specimens are positive from that area — where it’s less than 8%  in the rest of the country. So to all my friends and colleagues in New York, this is the group that absolutely needs to social distance,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force .

“I always look forward to Passover — spending time with grandchildren and going places. I have an elderly mother-in-law in Israel, I like spending time with her, and basically all of that’s out of the window,” Weisberg said.

This will be a different kind of Passover.