A massive funeral was held in Hasidic Williamsburg for Rabbi Chaim Mertz on April 28, 2020 in direct violation of NYS Governor Cuomo’s executive order for social distancing. Metro NYC’s Haredi community is already suffering from staggering high death rates from Covid-19. Living in large families in crowded housing, this sort of event will doubtlessly add more bodies to the death toll, particularly of their elderly, like 71-year-old Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died of Covid-19.
This is part of a larger pattern where the Haredi community has repeatedly breached rules on public gatherings for weddings, prayer groups, school classes, ritual immersions for men, and ironically, for the funerals of elderly rabbis who died from Covid-19.
Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic. When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.
My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, 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.
But nothing was done to disperse the crowd. According to the NY Post, “A spokesperson for the NYPD said officers on scene did not ticket or arrest anybody.” In fact, the police knew about it in advance and accepted assurances that attendees would all wear face masks and maintain social distancing. But it is hard to actually accomplish that with large crowds which is precisely why there are restrictions on large gatherings. The existing infection rate is high in the Haredi world. By the end of the day, dozens were doubtlessly infected and brought it home to their large families.
Haredim howled in outrage over Jews being singled out and they got non orthodox Jewish organizations to join in. I suspect the non-orthodox were more concerned about secular Jews being lumped in with Hasidim as distancing violators. But the Hasidic outrage was certainly feigned by many of the Hasidic political leadership (the askanim) who know perfectly well they will have a hard time ever getting a mayor as obliging as Bill De Blasio. A player who knows the game well, former city councilman from Borough Park, David Greenfield, said as much in a Tweet.
What is going on is political theatre where De Blasio makes believe he enforces the law and Haredim make believe they comply. It reminds me of the Communist era joke in Russia: “The party makes believe it pays us and we make believe we work.” We are dealing with an old pattern preceding De Blasio and extending beyond NYC. Haredim have amassed voting power by often voting in a bloc. Deploying that bloc in otherwise low turnout primaries is especially valuable in overwhelmingly Democratic NY, where outcomes are often determined in the primaries. Continue reading