Orthodox Jews in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park and Williamsburg cut the locks from their local playgrounds during rallies held by lawmakers in the area after requests and then demands to open the parks went unheard by City Hall.
For several days lawmakers and local New Yorkers had pleaded with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to open the parks, especially after Governor Andrew Cuomo had given a green light to go ahead at the state level, saying the COVID-19 threat had abated enough for safety not to be a factor if precautions were taken.
“As we enter summer, today we are allowing localities to open public pools and playgrounds in their judgment while following state guidance,” Cuomo said last Thursday in a statement.
“Thank you NY Gov. Cuomo!” State Senator Simcha Felder tweeted in response. “We need playgrounds opened now. NYC Mayor, We need playgrounds opened now! Not tomorrow, not next week, not when school ends. Kids and families across this city are suffering unnecessarily. The solution is simple and in your hands.”
The next day Felder kept up the pressure, but it had little effect. “Keeping children cooped up and isolated was a necessary evil, but families in cramped urban living spaces need relief – NOW. NYC Mayor continue educating people about best practices, but give them the freedom to use their own best judgement. Open playgrounds and schoolyards today!” he tweeted.
Keeping children cooped up & isolated was a necessary evil, but families in cramped urban living spaces need relief -NOW. @NYCMayor continue educating people about best practices, but give them the freedom to use their own best judgment. Open playgrounds and schoolyards today! pic.twitter.com/CkcvLBSSvB
— Senator Simcha Felder (@NYSenatorFelder) June 11, 2020
Meanwhile, bars and restaurants in the city were open for the weekend, and of course thousands of “protesters” continued their activities en masse without limit down the streets of the city, encouraged and cheered on by City Hall, with no disparaging remarks and certainly no admonition about “best practices.”
On Monday, State Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein added his voice, tweeting to the mayor, “Don’t leave kids behind. OPEN THE PLAYGROUNDS NOW! Playgrounds + school yards are essential to children. They need a place to play that’s safe.”
Eichenstein joined Felder and New York City Council Member Kalman Yeger at a rally in the Brooklyn Jewish neighborhood of Midwood where parents again demanded that City Hall open the playgrounds in their neighborhood as well.
.@NYCMayor: Don’t leave kids behind. OPEN THE PLAYGROUNDS NOW!
Playgrounds + school yards are essential to children. They need a place to play that’s safe.
— Simcha Eichenstein (@SEichenstein) June 14, 2020
By then, however, it seems de Blasio ha already given a green light for city workers to actually weld shut the gates to the biggest park in Boro Park’s Jewish community, and in Middleton Park, in the Jewish community of Williamsburg.
That was taking place while thousands of people gathered at the Brooklyn Museum to continue their protests against the death of George Floyd and the city’s police.
Enter Boro Park activist Heshy Tischler, who has been at the 18th Avenue Park repeatedly. It was Tischler who ensured the reopening of the 18th Avenue Park (Gravesend Park), and Middleton Park in Williamsburg.
VIDEO: As @NYCMayor marches with protesters and orders Contact Tracers not to ask people if they were at protests, the City is welding shut a park that is largely used by Hasidim in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. pic.twitter.com/HcAEo4jVA9
— Yossi Gestetner (@YossiGestetner) June 15, 2020
Yes. This is actually happening now!
Bill de Blasio is Welding the gates at the biggest park in the Jewish community, (Borough Park, Brooklyn) So your child shouldn't try to break in. While Hundreds of thousands of people gathered yesterday at Brooklyn Museum.#deBlasioMustGo pic.twitter.com/Q02ew5O5nZ
— Joel Fischer (@JFNYC1) June 15, 2020
The welded portion was later removed and replaced with heavy chains and locks, but the damage was done. Just a few hours later, those locks were cut in both Boro Park and Williamsburg.
State Assembly Member Joseph Lentol held a rally a few hours later in Williamsburg. He said in a statement to media: “While I did not see the locks being cut, I understand the frustration which would lead that to happening. Our families do not feel that they are being heard.
“I see this rally as a peaceful message, with the clipping of the locks as a strong signal that the families are unhappy and fed up. They want activities for their children and they want to be heard. The city must come up with a better plan than cutting off access to playgrounds entirely.”
The NYC Parks Department said in response that the park – Middleton – is closed just as all the city’s parks are closed and said the welding was done in response to the frequent break-ins in past days. They later unwelded the entrance and instead put chains and locks in its place – which were clipped off with bolt cutters by the residents Monday evening.
Disobedient Jews! The mayor is going to have an aneurism. This is like his all-time biggest pet peeve https://t.co/DIb1yoXmh7
— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) June 15, 2020
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) retweeted the footage of that event, with one comment: “Bravo.”
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 15, 2020
The warnings continued, however, because there are more parks that remain closed.
NYC Orthodox Jewish elected officials threatened to “break the chains” of the parks themselves if the mayor refused to open local parks immediately for the children.
State Senator Simcha Felder: “We’ve asked nicely and waited patiently. We’ve made every logical argument. The people have spoken and they’re running out of patience. If @nycmayor won’t open ALL our playgrounds @SEichenstein @KalmanYeger and I will cut the locks open ourselves.”
— Yossi Gestetner (@YossiGestetner) June 15, 2020
Tischler, Yeger, Eichenstein, and Felder subsequently broke the lock and chains to open the Ave L Park in Brooklyn’s Midwood / Flatbush neighborhood, with the promise of more parks in other neighborhoods to follow.