News and Commentary

Orthodox Jewish Community In NYC Holds Massive Protest To Challenge Coronavirus Restrictions
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on July 23, 2020 in New York City.
Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

The Orthodox Jewish community in New York City held a massive protest Tuesday night against New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio over what they believe are aggressive coronavirus-related restrictions aimed squarely at the Jewish community and over the aggressive enforcement of those regulations.

“Hundreds of members of the Borough Park Orthodox community took to the streets Tuesday night, defying orders to disperse and lighting a fire in protest of new state-mandated restrictions imposed on area synagogues, schools and non-essential businesses over a COVID-19 surge,” the New York Post reported Tuesday.

The protesters set fire to masks and other symbols of anti-coronavirus protective measures.

The restrictions, which Cuomo imposed earlier this week, include a near-complete lockdown of “non-essential” businesses in select areas of the city defined as “coronavirus hot spots.” Nearly all of the ZIP codes indicated as hotspots are in predominantly Jewish areas of the city. Many of the targeted areas are in Brooklyn.

“Red ‘intense clusters’ will see all non-essential businesses and schools closed, restaurants reduced to takeout only, mass gatherings prohibited and houses of worship limited to a maximum of 25 percent capacity or 10 people,” according to an earlier report from the Post. “The closures must be made no later than Friday — though a spokesman for de Blasio tweeted that they would likely begin Thursday — and run for at least two weeks.”

“A map released by the governor’s office shows Brooklyn’s red zone encompassing a huge chunk of the borough, including much of Borough Park, Midwood, and Homecrest,” the outlet continued. Schools can remain open for in-person learning, but students must undergo weekly coronavirus testing.

The Orthodox Jewish community says they’re being singled out, a point leaders made in a statement released Tuesday night questioning the Constitutionality of Cuomo’s and de Blasio’s crackdown.

“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today,” they wrote. “He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities.”

The leaders also say that, despite claiming concern over the spread of coronavirus in select communities, Cuomo has made an effort to speak to community leaders about the issue: “[Cuomo’s] 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.”

They even called into question Cuomo’s decision to display photos of Orthodox Jewish celebrations during his presentation on new coronavirus restrictions — photos that did not depict recent events.

“Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous,” they said. “His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State,”

The protest was met with serious resistance. Although Bill de Blasio has been reticent to allow the New York Police Department to take significant steps to control other demonstrations that ultimately became destructive, the NYPD was out in force on Tuesday night.

Cuomo defended his measures Wednesday, noting that the new rules are targeted towards communities that have resisted coronavirus-related restrictions from the beginning of the pandemic.

To the extent there are communities that are upset, that’s because they haven’t been following the original rules,” Cuomo said. “That’s why the infection spread, because they weren’t following the rules and the rules weren’t being enforced.”

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