|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] COVID-19 Central - Boro Park
|They refuse to report the natural crowding of the community.
NYC threatens Orthodox Jewish areas with lockdown over Covid fears
Facing a worrying spike in coronavirus cases in Orthodox Jewish
neighbourhoods, New York City health officials began carrying out
emergency inspections at private religious schools on Friday and
threatened to impose an extraordinary lockdown in those communities that
would be the first major retreat by the city on reopening since the
Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the police department and the sheriff’s
office to enforce public health guidelines in several Orthodox Jewish
neighbourhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, where residents often do not wear
masks or engage in social distancing. But community leaders said
residents have been resisting the guidelines because of hostility
towards Mr de Blasio and the growing influence of Donald Trump, whose
views on masks and the pandemic have been widely embraced.
The crackdown is occurring shortly before Yom Kippur, the holiest day on
the Jewish calendar, which begins Sunday night and it was not
immediately clear the impact that the measures might have on the ability
of people to gather in synagogues. The health department said that if
significant progress towards following guidelines did not occur by
Monday, officials could issue fines, limit gatherings or force closings
of businesses or schools.
“This may be the most precarious moment we are facing since we emerged
from lockdown,” Dr Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said at
a news conference in South Brooklyn.
Officials this week released statistics showing that the positivity rate
in some Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods had grown to anywhere from 3 per
cent to 6 per cent, significantly more than the city’s overall rate of
between 1 per cent and 2 per cent. Officials are especially worried
about the positivity rates in the Brooklyn neighbourhoods of Borough
Park, Midwood and Gravesend, which they have referred to as the “Ocean
Mr de Blasio said on Friday, on The Brian Lehrer Show, that the city had
closed four yeshivas over violations of social distancing rules.
“There’s a very rigorous outreach effort in the community in English and
Yiddish,” the mayor said, adding: “There’s a substantial number of
Yiddish speakers who have been brought into the effort. Test and trace
has been hiring directly from the community. We are going to keep doing
that, though. I think this is an indicator we will be fighting for a
little while here.”
The uptick in these neighbourhoods amounts to the first major
coronavirus challenge for the city after months of declining or flat
infection rates. The concern now is that if the outbreak spreads further
in the Orthodox community it could begin to take hold elsewhere, with
even more serious consequences. If the city’s overall positivity rate
hits 3 per cent, that would trigger a new lockdown, including the
closing of public schools.
“In the absence of our doing the right thing, we will need to be in a
lockdown-type situation as occurred in Israel,” said Dr Mitchell Katz,
head of New York City Health and Hospitals, which is overseeing the
city’s contact-tracing programme, earlier this week. He was referring to
the decision by the Israeli government to reinstitute restrictions
because the country is facing the highest rate of new cases per capita
in the world.
The distrust of authorities was on display during Friday’s news
conference in South Brooklyn, at Gravesend Park, which was attended by
several city health officials, when one man interrupted Dr Katz by
loudly saying the city had been exaggerating the severity of the outbreak.
The scene grew tense when a second man, who was not wearing a mask,
approached Dr Katz, who told him to back off or put on a mask. The man
shouted that he wouldn’t wear a mask and anyone who didn’t like it could
“You don’t live here,” he shouted. “Get out of here.”
A group of Jewish men gather in the Basketball Court on the Lower East
Side to pray while temples remain closed due to the coronavirus in
The man, who wouldn’t give his name, soon shouted a racial slur. He also
began yelling: “Go to East New York”, a predominantly black
neighbourhood in Brooklyn.
Visits to Borough Park showed how the rules are often ignored. The
coronavirus outbreak devastated New York’s Orthodox Jewish community in
March and April, and community leaders say hundreds have died, including
influential religious leaders. But this week, there was hardly a face
mask in sight, as if the pandemic had never happened.
At a flower stand in Borough Park on Friday, a vendor, Boris Mushayev,
tended to his merchandise as customers around him, all without masks,
perused the white, red and orange blooms.
“You have some people here who wear masks but it is true that most
people do not,” said Mr Mushayev. “I think some people are just not so
worried about the virus anymore. If customers want me to wear a mask, I
wear it, but for now I have to focus on work.”
Borough Park and Midwood were islands of support for Mr Trump during the
2016 election when the president won 89 per cent of the vote in one
local precinct. Many there view him as an ally on issues like school
choice, religious freedom and support for Israel, said Avi Greenstein,
chief executive of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council.
Those political cross currents had made many here susceptible to
“conflicting information from Washington, where we see a constant
downplaying of the crisis and indoor rallies where people may or not be
wearing masks,” Mr Greenstein said.
He added that the political rift had been deepened by what he said were
the De Blasio administration’s failures.
“For the city to make this deadline on the evening of Yom Kippur is
shocking, and what is worse is, community leaders found out about this
on Thursday night from a press release,” said Mr Greenstein. “That tells
you everything you need to know about the story of Borough Park during
Mr Greenstein contrasted the mayor’s approach with a visit to his
community centre’s offices in January by attorney general William Barr,
who used the appearance as the venue to announce federal hate crime
charges against a Brooklyn woman accused of assaulting three Orthodox
women last December.
“That sent a message to the community, to the entire neighbourhood, very
loud and clear: we’re here; we’re working with you,” he said. But when
it comes to the coronavirus, he added, the neighbourhood was facing a
crisis of “tremendous uncertainty, a tremendous amount of misinformation
and a lack of information”.
Yosef Rapaport, a Yiddish podcaster whose brother and brother-in-law
both died of Covid-19, said Mr de Blasio needed to rebuild trust with a
religious minority that has largely spurned his administration and
aligned with Mr Trump.
“This community is being hit by a double whammy: the incompetence of
City Hall and the ugliness that is coming from Washington,” Mr Rapaport
said. “There is a deep, deep mistrust among the community for the
intentions of the mayor, especially when the president takes a different
Dr Katz defended the city’s efforts, saying that it had made more than
200,000 public health robocalls to neighbourhoods with significant
Orthodox Jewish populations and distributed tens of thousands of masks
in Borough Park, Williamsburg, Brighton Beach and Flushing.
The city has also placed “nearly 60 newspaper ads in community papers to
get the word out” among Hasidic Jews, he said, and talked to 20
synagogue leaders in Borough Park, a neighbourhood with about 300
synagogues, according to Mr Greenstein.
One lingering issue in the city’s relationship with Hasidic New Yorkers
has been a late-night Twitter outburst by the mayor after he personally
oversaw the dispersal of a rabbi’s funeral in Williamsburg in April. For
many, it validated their fears about the city’s leadership.
Jacob Kornbluh, a Hasidic Jew who lives in Borough Park and writes for
Jewish Insider, a national publication, summed up a perspective he often
hears in the neighbourhood: “De Blasio became the guy singling out the
Jews, so we don’t have to listen to him anymore.”
He added that when Mr de Blasio failed to respond similarly to Black
Lives Matter protests in June, it deepened people’s sense that the
government was singling them out.
“Trump speaks their language: distrust in his own government that he
leads, distrust in the media,” Mr Kornbluh said.
New York Times
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