Sheldon Kirshner
Sheldon Kirshner

New York City’s mayor has been unfairly criticized

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, has been accused of blaming the Jewish community for flouting social distancing regulations during the current coronavirus pandemic.

This is a patently unfair accusation.

Last month, de Blasio personally supervised the dispersal of a large, tightly packed ultra-Orthodox funeral procession in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Two thousand five hundred mourners, only some of whom wore masks, poured into a street to honor a rabbi who had died of COVID-19. They were clearly in violation of social distancing rules, which are intended to curb the spread of this deadly contagion.

Police commissioner Dermot Shea said that, while no arrests were made, dozens of summonses were issued.

After the crowd was dispersed, de Blasio tweeted, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed.”

In a subsequent tweet, he wrote, “Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic. What I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the coronavirus.”

Shortly afterward, de Blasio was accused of singling out the ultra-Orthodox community for disparagement.

“I agree with the mayor that social distancing is vitally important, and last night’s gathering was not appropriate,” said the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, in a statement. “But to blame the entire Jewish community is the type of stereotyping that is dangerous and unacceptable at any time, and particularly pernicious while the world is gripped in fear and the worst among us are looking for scapegoats.”

In the same vein, the chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, tweeted that generalizing about New York City’s Jewish population “is outrageous, especially when so many are scapegoating Jews.”

To say that Lauder and Greenblatt overreacted would be an understatement. As de Blasio correctly said, he was not singling out the Jewish community per se, but warning all communities that massive gatherings of any kind place everyone at risk of being infected by the coronavirus, which has already claimed the lives of 95,000 Americans. “I spoke out of real distress,” de Blasio added.

As Lauder and Greenblatt certainly must know, ultra-Orthodox Jews, ironically, have been disproportionately impacted by the outbreak, both in New York, Europe and Israel. In contravention of common sense, they have broken social distancing regulations by attending weddings and funerals and continuing to send their children to school.

In recognition of this reality, the leaders of several American ultra-Orthodox organizations issued a statement last month urging their members to obey social distancing rules.

Unfortunately, irresponsible and reckless elements in the ultra-Orthodox community have not heeded that call.

A few days ago, in response to a complaint from a neighbor, police raided a Hassidic school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, sending home about 60 pupils. Only a few were wearing masks when the raid took place.

Reacting to it, de Blasio said the school would remain shut until the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted.

Avrohom Weinstock, an official with the Agudath Israel of American, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, basically agreed with the mayor, saying that yeshivas have “no excuse” to contravene the boundaries of social distancing.

Ultra-Orthodox community leaders who refuse to comply with the law of the land put themselves, and everyone else, in danger by congregating in large numbers during this unprecedented health crisis. This is an intolerable situation that law enforcement must fix before it spins completely out of control.

Contrary to what U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) claims, Hassidic violations of social distancing is not an issue about religious freedom.

In the meantime, New York City should be thankful to de Blasio, a public official who sincerely cares about the health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.


About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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