New York mayor stirs controversy after breaking up Hasidic Jewish funeral

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has come under fire for singling out the Hasidic Jewish community after he personally oversaw the dispersal of hundreds of mourners gathered at the funeral of a rabbi who died from COVID-19.

De Blasio took to Twitter Tuesday to condemn the gathering, saying “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.”

The funeral was held for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, the New York Times reported, and the Tuesday episode appeared to be the first time de Blasio publicly broke up a crowd.

Following de Blasio’s public outrage of the gathering, the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council criticized the mayor for staying mum on a large gathering of New Yorkers who watched a military flyover by pilots in the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Forces’ Thunderbirds, who were honouring essential workers.

The council even tweeted out a photo of the mayor allegedly skirting social distancing measures in Williamsburg — the same location of the funeral — and included more photos of what shows thousands of people gathering to watch the flyover.

On Twitter, de Blasio provided reasoning for the dispersal. “Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite (sic): 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,” he wrote.

A city councillor who represents a section of Brooklyn that houses a large Orthodox Jewish population couldn’t believe the actions of de Blasio. “This has to be a joke,” Chaim Deutsch wrote on Twitter. “Did the Mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant?? Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying – of course he has!)”

He continued on in another post. “But singling out one community is ridiculous,” he wrote. “Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned.”

COVID-19 has made a devastating impact on the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, killing and infecting at a larger rate compared to other ethnic communities, local leaders and public health data suggest.

Influential leaders — including Yaakov Perlow, who led the Novominsker Hasidic dynasty and Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella ultra-Orthodox organization — have perished from coronavirus.

De Blasio defended his tweets at a Wednesday news conference and said he “spoke last night out of passion.”

“I spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger before my eyes and I was not going to tolerate it,” he said. “I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way, that was not my intention. It was said with love but it was tough love, it was anger and frustration.”

He dismissed suggestions that he singled out members of the Jewish community.

“It has not happened other places, let’s be honest,” he said. “This kind of gathering has happened in only a few places and it cannot continue. It’s endangering the lives of people in the community.”

“I understand politicians, every one has said, ‘oh look, you know, this is like people gathering in the park,’” he added. “No, it’s not like people gathering in the park, it was thousands of people, can we just have an honest conversation here? It was not acceptable.”

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