Inside the new reality we could never have imagined, an online supportive community and world has sprung up. Among the anguish over a world previously known, our college classes transformed into online classes, early childhood education classrooms became zoom sessions with children as young as two-years-old participating. Performances were cancelled and in a lucky few situations, became online virtual videos that have since gone viral. Graduations planned and anticipated were either cancelled or were held virtually with students graduating after four years of hard work stressed about the job market that they are unfairly stepping into. Once joyous weddings have become strictly social-distance weddings with only ten people while hundreds watch online disappointed that they cannot celebrate in person with their loved ones. With the increase of death from COV-19 cases especially in the Jewish community, funerals also have the same social-distance requirements with only ten people present and the body taken in a car passes the mourners standing six feet apart with masks whispering Psalms while tears stream as the ceremonial mourning custom of a Shiva for the Jewish community is replaced by a zoom call to check in. Our once close-knit community sees each other on the street with a mask and gloves from six feet or on a zoom session with events spanning from learning to a happy hour.
As the Jewish community has reeled from its disruption in all aspects of life and many deaths not only in America and Israel but across the world, we were enraged by the tweet from Mayor DeBlasio on April 28th
My message to the Jewish community, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.
This tweet was written by DeBlasio after a funeral for HaRev Chaim Mertz, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi from the Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn was filled with mourners where some ignored social distancing rules and did not wear masks. DeBlasio’s tweet in response to this funeral was directed at the 1.1 million Jews living in New York City. While flaunting of social distancing rules are not encouraged, singling out the entire Jewish community for the actions of an extreme few serves to only ignite anti-Semitism and leaves many Jewish leaders feeling betrayed by DeBlasio even after he apologized and added the words and all communities after backlash from the Jewish community who said that the tweet would increase anti-Semitism.
The disturbing rise and fear of anti-Semitism is confirmed in the recent Anti-Defamation League report where 2,107 anti-Semitic incidents in 2019 alone were recorded including a deadly shooting at a California synagogue, a Jewish-owned grocery store in New Jersey and rabbi’s New York home. The CEO of the A.D.L., Jonathan Greenblatt claims that last year’s record high of anti-Semitic tropes stems from the normalization of anti-Semitism and the charged politics of the day. He also notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. 95 victims are included in the official report, more than half occurred in New York City, including 25 in Brooklyn with 8 incidents occurring over Chanukah in the last year. There were also 1,127 incidents of harassment against Jewish individuals. Greenblatt references anti-Semitism as a virus which is a disease and persists. There is truly no single antidote or cure as we have seen with the distressing rise in the last year alone.
While the Jewish community struggles to unite during these difficult times and to educate others on the importance of complying with social distancing rules, we are supporting those in need in our communities. During the recent holiday of Passover, Seders-To-Go for many in need were distributed and young people are volunteering their time to Adopt a grandparent in need of a virtual grandchild. Moishe House, a Jewish non-profit that funds communal homes and programming took their online summer camp program to new levels creating a virtual color war where hundreds of Jews and other young people from South Africa to India compete in challenges known as Expedition Nai that keeps us engaged and contributing to causes that are needed at the time like personal protective equipment for our essential care medical workers.
Our community has united stronger in these difficult times grateful that our support system transcends a physical place where even though we have a physical distance, the community bonds are still tangibly felt.
Aliyah Jacobson is a writer and teacher living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a student at Brooklyn College and her articles have appeared in the Times of Israel, Excelsior, Vanguard, Jewish News Syndicate, Hayom and Israel National News