Backlash grows in orthodox Jewish areas over virus crackdown by Cuomo

Written By: Liam Stack © 2021 The New York Times New York Times
Washington Updated: Oct 08, 2020, 12:24 AM(IST)

Governor Andrew Cuomo Photograph:( AFP )

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The new restrictions, announced by Cuomo on Tuesday, are intended to combat worrisome outbreaks of the coronavirus in Brooklyn, Queens and New York City’s northern suburbs

NEW YORK — Orthodox Jewish and other religious leaders lashed out at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday over new coronavirus restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship, as protests broke out in Brooklyn overnight, leading to scenes of chaos and the injury of at least one person.

“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today,” four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers representing the areas affected by the shutdown said in a letter posted online late Tuesday. “He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities.”

Their frustration was reflected on the street, where video shared widely on social media showed hundreds of Hasidic men, most of them without masks, gathering after midnight and setting fires along 13th Avenue in the Borough Park neighborhood. The crowd soon turned violent, with a mob angrily swarming at least one Hasidic man they believed to be disloyal to the community.

“Snitch!” one man can be heard yelling in English in one video, as the crowd beats the man. He was identified as Berish Getz by a relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, and was treated overnight at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

The Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new restrictions, announced by Cuomo on Tuesday, are intended to combat worrisome outbreaks of the coronavirus in Brooklyn, Queens and New York City’s northern suburbs, including several areas with large Orthodox populations.

Cuomo seemed to be specifically targeting Orthodox synagogues that have become scenes of large gatherings of worshippers clustered together, with many not wearing face coverings. The governor has used photos of packed crowds of Orthodox Jews this week to make the case for imposing restrictions in certain areas.

The rules would shut down nonessential businesses and schools and impose tight restrictions on houses of worship, where attendance in the hardest-hit areas would be limited to 10 people. In other neighborhoods, attendance would be limited to 25 people.

Religious leaders said they were not consulted before the governor announced the new rules, which were set to go into effect Friday, the day before an important Jewish holiday.

But the anger was not limited to the Orthodox Jewish community. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which has 1.5 million followers and 210 churches in Brooklyn and Queens, said it was taken by surprise by the governor’s announcement. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn condemned the new rules as “outrageous” in a statement Tuesday night.

“We fervently object to being told to further reduce capacity, because we have strictly adhered to COVID-19 protocols, and the safety measures have been working,” he said. “The safety of parishioners is paramount for the Diocese of Brooklyn, but the religious freedom of our parishioners is being unjustly attacked.”

“It is outrageous that after incurring great expense to implement all the safety protocols, our parishes are being forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people in the red zone and 25 people in the orange zone,” he added. “A capacity range of 10 to 25 people is disrespectful to Catholics and to the clergy who all have followed the rules.”

In a letter posted online Tuesday, four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers — State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and State Sen. Simcha Felder, and City Council members Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch — accused Cuomo of lying to community leaders about the scope of his lockdown plan during a conference call earlier Tuesday. They denounced it as “a duplicitous bait-and-switch.”

The lawmakers also criticized the governor for “irresponsible and pejorative” rhetoric, including the use of a photograph from more than 10 years ago during a news conference earlier this week that showed a Hasidic crowd gathering for a funeral.

Yeger addressed the protesters early Wednesday, according to video posted online by Boro Park News, an Orthodox Jewish news organization.

“We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, to observe our religion,” Yeger said. “I don’t care who in government thinks that they can stop us. They are wrong. Let them try.”

Yeger was joined by Heshy Tischler, a local activist who disrupted a city news conference on the coronavirus uptick and has spent recent days decrying the recent rise in cases as a hoax. Later, as a police officer looked on, Tischler addressed the crowd on a bullhorn.

“You are my soldiers! We are at war!” he said. “We are going to show them that our schools are open, and we are going to respect our police officers!”

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