Bristles of Orthodox community to New York’s response to COVID Spike, say they are targeted – NBC New York


Amid a new wave of COVID-19 in New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities, many members are reviving health measures some had abandoned over the summer – social distancing, wearing masks. For many, there is also a return of anger: they feel that the city is targeting them.

The latest blow: an order Monday from Governor Andrew Cuomo temporarily closing public and private schools in several areas with large Orthodox populations. It will come into effect on Tuesday.

“People are very discouraged and exhausted,” said Yosef Hershkop, a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who works for a chain of emergency care centers. “It’s not like we’re the only ones in New York City with COVID.”

In recent weeks, senior government officials including Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have sounded the alarm on localized increases in COVID-19 after several months in which the state had one of the rates lowest infection rates in the country. Officials say the worst-hit zip codes overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and a few neighboring counties.

The goal is to prevent a second feared wave of infections months after the city fought back an outbreak that has killed more than 24,000 New Yorkers.

As part of the closure plan submitted to Cuomo by the mayor, 100 public and 200 private schools would be closed in nine areas that are home to nearly 500,000 people. These areas represent 7% of the city’s population, but were responsible for around 1,850 new cases in the past four weeks – more than 20% of all new infections in the city during that time.

De Blasio had proposed closure on Sunday, the second day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when Orthodox Jews would not use phones or computers and therefore would not have heard the news until sunset.

“Announcing it in the middle of a Jewish holiday shows the town hall’s incompetence and lack of sensitivity towards the Jewish community,” tweeted Daniel Rosenthal, Member of the Queens State Assembly.

De Blasio said he was aware of the holidays but felt compelled to announce the plan as soon as it was worked out.

The World Health Organization has said that according to its best estimates, around 10% of the world’s population has been infected with COVID-19.

The focus on Orthodox communities bothered many of their members, even as civic and religious leaders recognized the dangers posed by the new epidemic and urged to adhere to the guidelines. Many say they are already striving to balance rituals and traditions centered on community gatherings with the rules of health.

Last week, Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, worked with the Boro Park Jewish Community Council to distribute 400,000 masks. Fern Sidman, a reporter for The Jewish Voice newspaper, said many families are canceling bar mitzvahs or planning to cut attendance significantly.

The Jewish Voice urges compliance with health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing. However, its editor, David Ben Hooren, said many Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and Queens believe they have been unfairly targeted by strict restrictions that are not enforced elsewhere.

“The Jewish community feels like it is being left out and there is an element of anti-Semitism,” he said on Monday. “Not that I agree with that, but it’s the feeling on the street. Tensions are high. “

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, said a majority of Orthodox Jewish community “is determined to do what is necessary” to fight the coronavirus, and that adherence to health guidelines has become “much more common”.

He said his organization was discouraging outings and family gatherings this week as Sukkot continued. “People must comply with all government guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of the virus,” he said.

At a press conference Monday, Cuomo posted images of large gatherings of Orthodox Jews and warned he could shut down some religious institutions if their leaders did not follow the restrictions. He and de Blasio are also considering ordering the closure of some non-essential businesses in sensitive areas.

The latest developments have rekindled the friction that surfaced in March and April, when some Orthodox neighborhoods in and around New York City were hit hard by the coronavirus. Hundreds of people have died or been hospitalized, and lockdowns have closed many Jewish schools and businesses.

In April, de Blasio oversaw the dispersal of a large Hasidic burial in Brooklyn and caught fire on a tweet warning “the Jewish community and all communities” against large gatherings. Some in the community have accused him of double standard because of his support for rallies linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The New York mayor said he has asked the state for permission to close schools and restore restrictions on non-essential businesses in several neighborhoods due to a resurgence of the coronavirus. Reports from Ida Siegal of NBC New York.

Why this upsurge? Some residents have spoken of the return of Orthodox families after summer getaways to the shore or to the Catskill Mountains, and the recent reopening of some Jewish schools. Shafran said some members of the community, after the spring outbreak subsided, let their guard down by wearing less masks and social distancing, and resumed hugging the extended family.

Motti Seligson, director of media relations for the Chabad-Lubavitcher Hasidic movement, said friction between New York’s Hasidic communities and the city’s health department had simmered for years.

A long-standing dispute has involved the city’s efforts to restrict a specific circumcision procedure used by some Orthodox communities, claiming it poses a health risk.

In 2018 and 2019, measles cases spread to Orthodox communities in New York City as well as other areas. As waves of anti-Semitism surfaced, some Orthodox leaders felt that the Department of Health should have focused more on working with affected communities and less on their rebuke.

“There’s a lot of confidence that’s eroded over the course of a decade,” Seligson said. “You need a much greater integration with these communities – flood them with awareness, speak to every synagogue, to every doctor. “

When asked about these criticisms, the Department of Health released a statement from Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi saying, “Everywhere we have been we have worked hand in hand with the community and we will always work to build trusted partnerships. so that everyone knows how to protect themselves. ”

Sarah Horowitz, a Hasidic resident of Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood, was angry at the possibility of further restrictions and what she felt was the close examination of her community.

Already, she says, she is struggling to find the right balance between work and parenting now that her 9-year-old daughter’s private school has been closed due to the virus.

“Everyone is frustrated,” she said after de Blasio’s announcement. “We all feel targeted by the mayor. We just want our lives to get back to normal. … It is as if we are living under a black cloud.

To some extent, the frictions in New York reflect developments in Israel, where ultra-Orthodox have been criticized for ignoring safety rules and crowding into synagogues even as the country battles a new epidemic. of COVID-19. Israel’s coronavirus czar said the ultra-Orthodox, who make up around 10% of the population, account for around 40% of new cases.


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