JERUSALEM (RNS) — In early spring, as the worldwide measles outbreak was raging, an Orthodox Israeli woman wrote a prayer to encourage religious parents to vaccinate their children.
“I’ve come across a lot of people who do vaccinate, but they often feel conflicted,” said the prayer's author, Hannah Katsman, a lactation therapist in central Israel. “I wrote the prayer to help them see vaccines as a positive thing to be grateful for and not something to fear.”
The prayer asks that the vaccines being given “bring health, blessing and redemption, and protect us from suffering and terrible diseases” and asks God to bless the nurses and doctors who provide vaccines with a “long and peaceful life, financial security and success.”
Katsman said members of a Hebrew-language pro-vaccination Facebook group, where she is active, urged her to write the prayer as the number of measles cases in Israel and elsewhere — particularly in some ultra-Orthodox enclaves — began to skyrocket. Jerusalem, New York and New Jersey have had serious outbreaks.
“These outbreaks were an impetus,” Katsman told Religion News Service. “Pockets of the Orthodox community were being hit hard,” largely due to the communities’ high birthrates and higher-than-average percentage of babies too young to vaccinate.
Although a small number of rabbis forbade their followers from vaccinating their children, the vast majority of community leaders openly endorsed vaccination.
Katsman, a public-health advocate, also wanted to pay tribute to the health professionals “who are working on the front lines, sometimes under threat,” to eradicate preventable diseases like measles and polio.
She dedicated the prayer to the memory of her brother Dr. Sholom Wacholder, a biostatistician “who was instrumental in the development of the vaccine to prevent cancers caused by HPV.”
This week, an official at one of Israel’s four HMOs asked Katsman’s permission to post the prayer in well-baby clinics throughout the country.
“This is exactly what I was hoping for,” Katsman said. “I also hope the prayer will be translated into Yiddish."
That language is spoken by many ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Katsman doesn’t expect to change the opinion of the strongest anti-vaxxers.
“My hope is that I can give comfort to those seeking it.”