God-Fearing Israelis Suffer from Less Anxiety during lockdowns than Secular, Arab counterparts new Study reveals

It seems that faith and identification with one’s place of residence reduces the amount of anxiety in the Israeli population resulting from the ongoing pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba recently examined the intensity of psychological symptoms among the secular, ultra-Orthodox (haredi) and Arab sectors and how much local leadership inspired confidence compared to the national government ministers and Knesset members.

Their findings show a clear difference between the secular and Arab sectors on the one hand and the ultra-Orthodox sector on the other and between trust in municipal versus national leadership. 

Prof. Orna Braun-Lewensohn (head of the university’s multidisciplinary department); Dr. Sarah Abu-Kaf (head of BGU’s conflict management and resolution program) and Dr. Tehila Kalaji (of the department of management and public policy) examined the intensity of psychological symptoms, anxiety, depression and anger as well as personal resources of hope, a sense of coherence (the ability to view the world as significant), community resilience and trust in elected officials (government and Knesset members) among three sectors, during a continuing state of stress of the pandemic.

On the eve of the second closure, questionnaires were sent to 248 secular Jews, 243 ultra-Orthodox Jews and 203 Arab Israeli. Secular Israeli Jews reported suffering from a high-level mental distress during the second closure at the end of the summer, similar to that in the Arab sector, but earlier in the pandemic, anxiety among Arabs was much lower than among their secular Jewish counterparts.

The researchers did not include the significant national-religious (modern Orthodox) sector in their research, saying that in general, they focus on secular and haredi Jews and on Arabs in Israel. 

“These are alarming findings,” declared Abu-Kaf. “We’re not used to seeing such sharp measures of mental distress among the secular sector,” said Abu-Kaf. “Consistent indications of high levels of mental stress among secular Israeli Jews have begun to be seen among Israeli Arabs as well.” 

Despite high levels of COVID-19 infection among haredi Jews, the researchers said, it seems that their mechanisms of mental resilience and coping mechanisms are higher than in other sectors. 

The data indicated very high levels of anxiety and depression among the secular population and the Arab population in the country, with the level of anger at the establishment being highest among the three sectors, but among the secular and Arab population it was higher than among the ultra-Orthodox. 

The level of trust in the national leadership, government and Knesset members these days is extremely low, they found. The secular Jewish sector report the lowest level of trust (“complete distrust”) in the government and Knesset. It was followed by trust of the establishment among the Arab sector, and the higher level of trust reported by the ultra-Orthodox population – although even in this sector, the level of trust was very low. 

Community resilience is measured as trust in local leadership and the functioning of the municipal authority as well as the feeling of belonging to and pride in one’s place of residence. Among the Arabs, community resilience was reported at the lowest level; among the ultra-Orthodox, it was the highest. 

“Our findings correspond with the characteristics of the ultra-Orthodox society that has support mechanisms for its members, especially during the current crisis. These characteristics have become very significant in relation to the mental health of community members,” said Kalaji. “Demonstrating (relative) trust in the local authority and leadership requires the transfer of national government powers and resources for the purpose of providing a comprehensive response to citizens,” she added.

Braun-Lewensohn contrasted local leadership that contributed to the sense of community resilience with the crisis of distrust of the national leadership. “The mayors and local councils recovered after the first closure and worked for the benefit of their residents in all ways they saw fit. It is clear that many of them did much for their residents in diverse fields – education, sports culture and more. At a time when the level of public trust in national leadership is so low, the secular public sought and found a replacement for them in the local leadership, whose actions strengthened other parameters of community resilience such as belonging and local pride,” she asserted. 

Personal resilience resources, hope and a sense of coherence need to be strengthened among all sectors, they concluded, but especially among the secular and Arab sector.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem issued their new Coronavirus Report to the government’s “Corona Cabinet.” They found that in recent weeks, there has been a real increase in morbidity in all sectors; and there is difficulty in isolating the infections from one location to another, especially from Arab towns and villages;  

They recommended local lockdowns in cities, towns and neighborhoods with a high infection rate; that employees be encouraged, if possible, to work from home; and reducing crowding in shopping malls.




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