Photo Credit: Screenshot from Hasidic2 tweet
Police Trying in Vain to disperse a Simchat Beit Ha'Shoeva Crowd in Crown Heights, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020

Hundreds Borough Park Haredim packed the streets Tuesday night in open defiance of police orders to disperse and in protest of the new state-mandated restrictions—in response to an alarming rise in new coronavirus cases in the area—on attendance at local synagogues, schools, and non-essential businesses.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced a significant uptick in the citywide daily rate of positive virus tests in nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens, and some of them include predominantly Haredi Jewish communities.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday imposed tough restrictions on some largely-Haredi parts of New York City which affect synagogues in a devastating way. Cuomo also issued new orders to shut down schools, restaurants, bars and gyms in the red zones of Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland, Orange, and the city of Binghamton. The governor aims to end the confusion over stopping the spread of the coronavirus in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, where residents have been ignoring the health regulations.

According to The NY Post, one such crowded rally took place around 9 PM Tuesday, at the corner of 50th Street and 15th Avenue, where community activist and radio host Heshy Tischler attacked Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio over the order to shut down schools and restrict synagogue attendance to 10 in some pandemic hot spots.

Most of Borough Park is considered a hot zone, based on what the governor described as coronavirus diagnosis data.

Tischler riled up the crowd, saying: “It’s called civil disobedience, we can fight back. Do not allow them to torture you or scare you.”

On 13th Av., City Councilman Kalman Yeger told a different crowd: “We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, the right to observe our religion.”

The protesters shut down 13th Avenue to traffic and after midnight set garbage cans at the intersection of 46th Street and 13th Avenue. Two city sheriff’s deputies responded to the fire but were scared away by the crowd, who chanted “Jewish lives matter.” The fires were finally put out by FDNY firefighters and NYPD officers around 1:30 in the morning.

Yeger and three other Orthodox politicians: State Senator Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, and City Councilman Chaim Deutch, on Tuesday issued the following joint statement protesting the governor’s recent actions:

“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today. He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities. His administration’s utter lack of coordination and communication with local officials has been an ongoing issue since the start of the pandemic, and particularly recently as we face this uptick. Though we are the representatives of ‘hotspot’ neighborhoods, we have been disincluded from conversations with the governor and his leadership team as they made devastating decisions affecting the people we serve.

What occurred today can only be described as a duplicitous bait-and-switch. The governor informed Jewish community leaders in a conference call that synagogues in “red zones” would be permitted to operate at 50%, and he requested community cooperation (which he was assured would happen). Outrageously, just hours later, Governor Cuomo announced a draconian return to restrictions that would shutter thousands of New York businesses and limit houses of worship to a maximum capacity of 10 (no matter the maximum capacity of the building).

Even worse, his rhetoric in recent days has been irresponsible and pejorative, particularly to a community of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, for whom his language was reminiscent of past verbal attacks on Jewish communities. Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous. His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State. This implication is not born out by the state’s own data.

We will continue to encourage total compliance with mask-wearing and social distance guidelines in our communities. In recent weeks, we have seen a vast increase in compliance throughout our communities. We have personally organized massive mask distributions in areas that have seen an uptick in positive cases – distributing hundreds of thousands of masks to our constituents. Sadly, instead of working alongside our community to build on our work, the governor has instead chosen to respond with threats and aggressive enforcement — a tactic which has historically failed in all communities throughout New York.

That said, it is disgraceful that Governor Cuomo would impose these restrictions targeting our community in the midst of our Jewish holidays. Because of his unilateral and irresponsible acts, our community is rightfully shocked, angered and highly frustrated. Americans are constitutionally permitted to worship freely, and Governor Cuomo may be assured that we intend to exercise that right without his interference. G-d Bless America.”

On Monday night, NYPD officers who tried to disperse a huge street celebration at the intersection of Kingston Avenue and Montgomery Street in Crown Heights were largely ignored by the crowd who just kept on dancing.

A Chasidic Twitter user posted a video from the event showing police officers begging the dense crowd to follow the state’s laws to prevent the spread of the pandemic. “Please get onto the sidewalk,” an officer can be heard pleading, adding: “You will be allowed to dance on the sidewalk,” which doesn’t really follow the rules against large assembling. The video is titled, in Yiddish: “Police Ruin the Crown Heights Simchat Beit Ha’Shoeva.”

Meanwhile, here’s some delightful news: according to the Post, a pottery shop called The Painted Pot in Park Slope and Cobble Hill which offers do-it-yourself pottery-painting, ideal for Haredi kids on Chol Ha’Moed, refuses to admit customers from red spot parts of the city. The shop requires an idea and proof of residence before they let you in, and according to a tweet cited by the Post, declared “At this time, families who live in the following zip codes are welcome to purchase Pottery to Go only and cannot paint in our studios.”

Kings County (Brooklyn) has had 7,342 deaths to date, many of them in those hot spots. Brooklyn is in third place in NY City in the number of casualties from the pandemic, behind Queens and Suffolk Counties.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.