NYC unable to stop massive Orthodox Jewish funeral, ‘begged leaders not to hold event’ or ‘keep press out’

NEW YORK CITY, NY- While the number of Coronavirus cases continues to soar across the country, many government leaders have once again taken to tightening restrictions on many things, including public gatherings. 

While New York City is set to shut down its indoor dining, among other things tomorrow, December 14th, they are still unable to control the daily workings of their city. 

On Monday, December 7th, an Orthodox synagogue held a massive funeral in Williamsburg, and City Hall and the NYPD allegedly knew about it, and begged the leaders not to hold their event, but were unable to stop it from taking place according to reports.  

The New York Post reported that in pleas before the event, Mayor de Blasio’s representatives, including Pinny Ringel, the mayor’s liaison to the Orthodox Jewish community, asked the Yetev Lev D’Satmar temple at 152 Rodney St. to hold the funeral more safely outside, or at least require that everyone wear masks. The Satmar sect leaders refused, agreeing only to announce that masks were available at the door, sources revealed.

According to a source, when officials threatened to shut down the funeral, the synagogue leaders dared them to do so, saying in essence:

“Go ahead, make a spectacle,”

A person with knowledge of the alleged conversations said:

“They asked the synagogue to at least make sure to keep the press out so authorities aren’t embarrassed,”

The event, which attracted an estimated 5,000 mourners has been described by some as a super-spreader, considering no one was wearing masks, and the city was unable to do anything to stop it. 

The lack of, or timid response from city officials angered some local residence who are concerned about their own health and safety. 

One Williamsburg resident, who filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Investigation said:

“As a member of the community, I feel helpless and like no one is protecting our health and safety,” 

The New York Post reported that despite the fact that Mayor de Blasio’s administration apparently knew this event was going to take place ahead of time, they announced on Tuesday, December 8th, the city would investigate the funeral for 94-year-old Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman.

The investigation comes to light after The Post reported that thousands of men and boys jammed into the synagogue, with standing room only, and spilled onto the sidewalk. The building has a 1,600-person maximum occupancy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

“We’re still trying to get the full truth of what happened there,”

During his comments, the Mayor did not divulge the fact that he had made efforts to try to stop this event before it took place. 

The investigation is “still underway,” however, spokesman Bill Neidhardt said:

“We are trying to determine the exact — or as close as we can — attendance inside” 

Neidhardt added that:

[The lack of social distancing] “is being looked at,” 

He continued:

“That would be troubling — and dangerous. This is about public safety. It’s not just stopping the spread of COVID, but saving lives.” 

According to the New York Post, police in the NYPD’s 90th precinct had a heads up shortly before the funeral, but took no enforcement action, a spokesman confirmed. Five officers stood by, watching the crowd gather and disperse after the funeral.

NYPD’s Chief of Department Terrence Monahan said in a statement to The Post:

“Our goal is not to summons. Our goal is safety,” 

The statement continued:

“If further action is warranted, we will take it.”

Sheriff Joe Fucito denied his office had advance warning, saying:

“We didn’t do any enforcement at the funeral. I didn’t know about it until after it happened. I was told it happened.”

This is not the first time a large gathering has taken place within the Jewish community in New York City, however, the last event resulted in massive fines. 

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In October, five Orthodox Jewish institutions were each fined $15,000 for violating coronavirus health restrictions by having more than 10 people inside their religious facilities.

According to reports, for five hours, approximately 300 Orthodox congregants, led by a rabbi, who has tested positive for COVID-19, packed into the Bobov-45 synagogue on Friday, October 10th, without masks and despite Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D-NY) recent move to limit gatherings in houses of worship to 25% capacity or 10 people maximum. 

Mordechai Dovid Unger, the grand rabbi of the Hasidic dynasty, led the ceremony from behind a plexiglass shield. In a recent Instagram post, the local news site BoroPark24 reported that Unger had tested positive for COVID-19 and was experiencing mild symptoms. 

According to reports, two members of the Bobov-45 community said that they were shocked by Unger’s decision to return to the synagogue for full service. One of them who attended the service said:

“My reaction was, ‘that’s very selfish and unethical and just crazy.’”

Another member of the community said:

“I used to be there all the time, but it’s just not safe. They’re not doing the right thing”

Six coronavirus clusters have cropped up in Brooklyn, Queens, Broome, Orange, and Rockland counties. The state has recently closed schools and non-essential businesses in those areas as well as limited gatherings of large numbers.

Cuomo’s decision to limit the capacity of large gatherings, including religious services in the “cluster” zone, has outraged many in the Orthodox community, prompting fierce protests that have erupted into violence.

Allegedly, a lawsuit that was filed by an ultra-Orthodox party seeking a restraining order on the Governor’s decision was rejected by a judge.

Another person who attended the religious services said:

“It seems like no one’s concerned. Everyone believes they got the virus already.”

Both Cuomo and de Blasio have repeatedly promised a large-scale enforcement effort in cluster areas, however, that has yet to be seen until recently with the mayor announcing that houses or worship that do not comply with the new restrictions could be fined $15,000 per day.

Some Hasidic health care workers have warned that the festivities, such as observing Hoshana Rabbah and the final day of Sukkot could accelerate the spread of the virus. Blima Marcus, an ultra-Orthodox nurse practitioner in Borough Park said:

“I don’t see how that can end well.”

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn also sued the state in federal court, claiming that Cuomo’s plan would effectively force over two dozen of its churches to close its doors. U.S. District Judge Eric Komitee called the case a “difficult decision,” but essentially sided with Cuomo in denying the church’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Komitee said in his ruling:

“The government is afforded wide latitude in managing the spread of deadly diseases under the Supreme Court’s precedent.”

Fox News reported that the number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the coronavirus continues to rise, which is one of the reasons authorities heightened their focus on banning mass gatherings in COVID-19 hotspots.

Cuomo recently announced that 826 people were hospitalized, which is the highest number since July 15th. On Friday, October 10th, state officials said that eight New Yorkers died from COVID-19. 

Since the crackdown on large gatherings, law enforcement officials have delivered 60 summonses. The new restrictions are in place for at least two weeks. They will not be lifted until the infection rate trend reverts to the numbers New York saw over the summer.

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Author: K. Winters

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