Hours after the announcement of new restrictions Tuesday, members of the New York City’s Orthodox Jewish Community protested in response to strict new COVID-19-related restrictions.
On Wednesday, they protested for a second night and set items on fire in Borough Park, Brooklyn.
The area in Brooklyn is one of several places in New York where officials closed schools and limited houses of worship to a maximum of 10 people. State Governor. Andrew Cuomo instituted these measures to try to stop “hot spot” clusters in Brooklyn, Queens, and several New York City suburbs from spreading further into the state.
The clusters of cases have alarmed officials which just reopened schools for in-person classes last week. Further spread of Covid-19 in these neighborhoods and elsewhere could jeopardize that reopening for the entire city.
However, the new coronavirus restrictions were put in place just days before a major Jewish holiday and have aggravated existing tensions between the insular Orthodox Jewish community and city leaders.
The majority of Wednesday’s protesters were seen not wearing face masks and most were not implementing social distancing measures.
Jacob Kornbluh, a reporter for The Jewish Insider said in a series of tweets that he had been “brutally assaulted” by a crowd during Wednesday’s protest. Kornbluh tweeted that he was hit in the head and kicked by members of the crowd. In a tweet, he thanked “heroic police officers” for saving him.
Rep. Jerry Nadler retweeted Kornbluh’s account of the alleged attack, describing it as “terrifying news.”
“While this may be a small minority within a small community, it is disgusting and those responsible must be held to account for such violence,” Nadler said.
Gov. Cuomo said he spoke with members of the Orthodox Jewish community on Tuesday and asked for their cooperation in these actions, he said that the restrictions ‘was positively received.’
But in a joint statement, four local politicians said they were “appalled” by Cuomo’s words and actions and said that he had misled them.
State Sen. Simcha Felder, state Assemb. Simcha Eichenstein and NYC council members Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch argued that the restrictions were “scientifically and constitutionally questionable,” that they had not been notified nor included in these decisions, and that their religion was being targeted for an outbreak.
“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,” they said in a statement.“This implication is not born out by the state’s own data.
Dr. Dave Chokshi, the NYC Commissioner of the Department of Health, said the state restrictions were put in place based on rising Covid-19 cases and rising test positivity rates in these areas.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio commented that the restrictions were not targeting a specific group and noted that these neighborhoods were some of the most diverse in the world.
“This is about protecting everyone’s lives. This is about all New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “Within these areas are many kinds of people.”
The mayor added that people have a right to protest but must do so peacefully.
“NYPD will not tolerate people doing harm to others. No tolerance for assaults, damage to property, to setting fires. Anything like that is unacceptable,” de Blasio said.
The mayor warned that those violating rules on mass gatherings could be fined up to $15,000 a day. The fines for not wearing face coverings or maintaining social distancing can be $1,000 a day.
“We want to be respectful but I want to be very clear when the NYPD issues an instruction … people must follow the instruction,” he said.
Gov. Cuomo said in his briefing Wednesday that the new rules are difficult.
“It’s been a little bit ugly all through this,” Cuomo said. “These are difficult rules. This is a dramatic shift in society. It always has been.”