Wednesday, July 15, 2020
A Jewish day camp in suburban Dallas has closed after at least two campers and two counselors tested positive for COVID-19.
The closing of Gan Israel of Plano, Texas, on Tuesday night serves as a cautionary tale as schools look to reopen this fall. The camp, which according to its website serves kids ages two to incoming seventh graders, is run by Chabad, the Hasidic outreach movement.
Gan Israel closed for the summer after receiving the positive test results and has no plans to reopen, the camp confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The camp joins a growing number of summer camps that have closed after campers or staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and its experience demonstrates the delicacy of reopening child care facilities just six weeks before the beginning of the school year. The camp abided by state regulations and put cautionary measures in place.
The camp opened for a four-week session on June 29. But it could not escape Texas' current spike in COVID-19, which has seen close to 10,000 new cases a day for much of the past week.
"Some people might say, 'Well, there's a pandemic, so how can you even think about opening camp, period?'" said Hannah Lebovits, who sent her two children, ages 3 and 6, to the camp. "Everything they did was legal in opening their camp. Nothing was questionable."
A camper showed symptoms of the coronavirus on the Thursday following the July 4 weekend, and the number of cases grew from there. On Monday, the camp notified parents that that camper's counselor and another counselor had also tested positive. On Tuesday, when the camp learned that a second camper in a younger age group had tested positive, it closed camp entirely.
The camp did not test all campers for COVID-19, but it took the kids' temperatures every morning and monitored them for symptoms. It also required counselors to wear masks and asked older children to as well. Campers were met by counselors at the drop-off point each day and parents and other visitors were not let in the building.
But the camp said on its website that social distancing is not developmentally appropriate for children, and therefore "we expect that your child will be at a distance of less than six feet of another child, neither of whom will be in a mask, at many times this summer." Counselors also took certain age groups to swim at a public pool.
Like all day camps, the camp had no control over how families conducted themselves outside of camp hours.
"This is such a huge concern with child care," Lebovits said. "It's exactly that thing, where you're scared that these other people are going about their lives and the kids are going about their lives and you're hoping that everybody's making good decisions, but who knows?"
Now, Lebovits is worried about what the school year is going to look like, and is concerned about her kids being without social contact, potentially for months more. Her family just moved to the area so she could begin a new job, and she isn't sure how she and her husband will be able to work and get to know their new community if their kids need to remain at home indefinitely.
"It's really scary and it's really frustrating," she said.
"Schools are going to be exactly like that too," she said. "And so, thinking about opening in a month and a half, when literally [the camp] couldn't be open for two weeks … We don't really know what could happen."
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
New York City police are searching for suspects after an Orthodox Jewish man was assaulted in Brooklyn over the weekend.
According to a CBS New York report, the incident occurred on Saturday at 2525 Kings Highway, near East 27th Street.
The 51-year-old victim told police he was walking home when three men pulled up next to him in a car and began screaming anti-Semitic insults.
The men then got out of the car and physically attacked him, leaving him with injuries to his face and a broken finger.
Police are currently looking for the perpetrators, who were described as being in their late teens or early 20s.
The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is also involved in the investigation.
A wave of street assaults targeting Jews in Brooklyn last year garnered media attention and was one of the motivations for the "No Hate, No Fear" march against anti-Semitism held in January.
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine formed the view that the arrival of the dozens of thousand of Hasidim-pilgrims in Uman for the celebration of Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah in the traditional format this year is impossible as the document published by Uman Mayor Oleksandr Tsebriy reports.
"The result of the interdepartmental meeting at the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is the common opinion that the arrival of the dozens of thousands of Hasidim-pilgrims in Uman for celebration in the traditional format is impossible," Tsebriy wrote.
According to the document, such a decision was made due to the current epidemical situation in Israel that is in the red zone according to the morbidity rate with coronavirus disease and ban for holding of mass events in Ukraine.
Earlier, Mayor of Uman Oleksandr Tsebriy stood against the arrival of Hasidim in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The government predicts the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic exactly for September. That is why I stand against the visit of our city by the pilgrims this year," Tsebriy stated.
Monday, July 13, 2020
The front page of the June 26 issue of Der Yid, one of the most widely circulated Yiddish newspapers among New York's Hasidic Orthodox communities, made the point loud and clear.
"And so it was after the plague."
Those words, lifted from a verse in the Torah and printed alongside photos of large gatherings of unmasked Hasidic men, had a clear implication: After months of funerals and fear, the modern-day pandemic had passed and the time had come to gather again.
That sentiment appears to be guiding life in Brooklyn's Hasidic communities, where nearly four months after the virus first arrived, synagogues and camps are open, yeshivas resumed classes before closing for summer break and wedding halls are packed again, sometimes in violation of city and state rules designed to slow the spread of disease.
Continued gatherings of Hasidic Jews drew criticism from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others in the city this spring who said the communities were not doing their part to stop the spread of the virus. But inside the communities, the overwhelming perception is that most people have had the virus and may now be immune.
"That's the feeling, that they've had it, everybody they know has had it, and the people they know who haven't had it have some kind of immunity that we just don't understand yet," one Williamsburg health administrator said.
If community members' assumptions are correct — and that's a big if, as much is not yet known about whether and how COVID-19 infections provide later immunity — Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods would stand alone. Even in the few places such as Sweden that have explicitly pursued a strategy of trying to reach herd immunity, antibody tests show that most of the population there has not yet been infected.
But a confluence of bad timing, large families in cramped apartments and a highly social way of life that can't be replaced virtually gave residents of Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods little opportunity to try to prevent a major outbreak. Now local health care providers and administrators say surveys and tests suggest that as many as 70% of the community has had COVID-19 and recovered, and that new cases have slowed or stopped entirely in their neighborhoods, despite a near total return to normal behavior, including large gatherings.
As case numbers skyrocket in many parts of the United States, the grim experiment that unfolded in Brooklyn's Hasidic communities offers a compelling case study for those trying to understand this virus — and the costs that come with experiencing its proliferation.
"I have a sad feeling that we can go out and about because we were lax," said Yosef Rapaport, a 65-year-old media consultant in Borough Park whose brother and a brother-in-law were among the hundreds of community members to die this spring.
After being extremely cautious for months, even Rapaport admits that the lack of new cases has put him somewhat more at ease. But the way the community got there is something he wouldn't repeat if given the chance.
"It's not something that makes me happy," he said. "To benefit from the bad is something that makes me sad. But I can't have complaints that people live in the reality that exists."
"Yes, people are going to die, but they don't have better options."
The window to "flatten the curve," as public health officials exhorted the public to do in the pandemic's early days, in the tight-knit Orthodox communities of Brooklyn may have been over long before government officials began advising New York City residents to begin social distancing and wearing masks.
That's because a majority of the cases in the Orthodox community, many believe, came in the days leading up to and on the Jewish holiday of Purim on March 9 and 10. While the mayor and governor were still days away from shutting down schools and businesses, parties and prayer services on Purim seeded the epidemic in Crown Heights, Borough Park and other neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities.
"Purim came at a really bad time in the outbreak," Eili Klein, a professor of emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in April. "The virus was just starting to spread in the community, and congregations of people in close proximity might have allowed the small number of infected people to spread it more widely than they might have otherwise."
A week later there were just over 800 confirmed coronavirus cases across New York City. More than 100 had come from just one Borough Park clinic serving Orthodox Jews.
That was the beginning. Over the coming weeks, the communities were ravaged by the disease. Death notices were posted hourly on Orthodox news sites. Burial societies worked continuously and ran out of the shrouds required to lay the dead to rest. Funeral homes recruited people with SUVs to transport bodies they lacked the capacity to handle.
And then, just as abruptly as it began, the pace slowed. One large burial society in Brooklyn said the volume of dead bodies needing preparation for burial dropped off two weeks after Passover, which ended in mid-April. They had prepared 700 bodies for burial during a period in which they would normally have prepared 100.
Widespread efforts toward social distancing began to wane in some Hasidic neighborhoods, especially Williamsburg and Borough Park. After thousands of people crowded Williamsburg streets in late April for the funeral of a rabbi there who had died of COVID-19, de Blasio called out "the Jewish community" for failing to follow social distancing guidelines. Two days later, another funeral in Borough Park drew a large crowd that city police officers dispersed. Some yeshivas began reopening illegally, with classes held in basements or teachers' homes.
The abandonment of social distancing may have seemed cavalier, but some community members say it was inevitable.
"They can't socially distance because they can't be locked up, because they chose a way of life in which it's impossible to exist locked up," one Hasidic man in Borough Park said about his community, noting that it's not uncommon for a Hasidic family of 10 or 12 to live in a two- or three-bedroom apartment. "Yes, people are going to die, but they don't have better options."
No spike in cases seemed to follow in those neighborhoods, according to health professionals there, reinforcing the sense for many that the danger had passed.
Meanwhile, a group of local doctors working to track COVID cases in the Hasidic community in Crown Heights, where distancing guidelines appeared to be more widely adhered to for a longer period of time, found that local newly symptomatic cases peaked on March 15. That was just five days after Purim and weeks before the city's new cases peaked, well into widespread distancing.
The doctors began working together in March under the auspices of the Gedaliah Society, a professional development group that functioned in relative obscurity before the pandemic but quickly became an authority in the community's efforts to respond to the pandemic.
Using a Google form disseminated on a blog and through social media, the doctors asked local residents to self-report their symptoms, when the symptoms began and other information that would help the doctors understand how far the virus had spread.
More than 3,500 people responded quickly to a subsequent survey asking respondents for antibody test results, leading the doctors to estimate that a majority of community members could have antibodies. They estimated that slightly more than 70% of the community's adults between the ages of 25 and 65 had "been sick with COVID-like symptoms." Among adults over age 65, they estimated, 55% had been sick.
Without random testing, it's impossible to know the true penetration of the virus in Crown Heights. But the doctors' estimates would put the community within the range that scientists say is likely to confer herd immunity, meaning enough of the community has recovered from a disease or been inoculated by a vaccine to significantly mitigate or stop the spread of the disease within the community.
That's exactly what the doctors said they were seeing.
"In our little island of Crown Heights, we have had relatively few new cases over the past few weeks," they wrote on May 11.
The situation had improved even more by their update on June 5, when they reported no new cases in the community.
"Presumably, this is due to the large percentage of Crown Heights that has been already affected, conferring a substantial degree of immunity to us as a community," the doctors wrote on June 5.
In late June, they wrote again that they knew of no new local cases.
"The numbers are high."
The Crown Heights survey looked at just one neighborhood, but Borough Park and Williamsburg, two other neighborhoods with large Hasidic populations, appear to have had a similar experience.
Overall, there is evidence that many people across New York City have had COVID-19 already. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said an antibody study had shown a citywide positive rate of 19.9% and a positive rate of 29% in Brooklyn. A study posted in early June of over 28,000 antibody test results in the New York City area showed that 44% of respondents who walked into clinics for antibody testing were found to have them. (That study has not yet gone through the peer review process.)
But none of those studies offers a picture of the situation in Hasidic communities, which are relatively insular. Even the city's data, broken down by Zip code, is an imperfect measure for communities that are spread over multiple Zip codes that include many non-Jews.
"What's more helpful are what we're getting from the community health centers where the Jewish people are going to be tested for their antibodies," said Blimi Marcus, a nurse practitioner living in Borough Park who has been an outspoken advocate within the Orthodox community for staying home to stop the spread of the virus. "And the numbers are high."
Administrators and providers from four health care clinics with locations in Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods told JTA that they had seen antibody positive rates that were far higher than the citywide data.
"In the first weeks when they first started to offer it, positive rates hovered in the 55-60% range," Yosef Hershkop, regional manager at Kamin Health, said of the tests done at his clinic.
Kamin Health has locations in Crown Heights, Borough Park, Williamsburg and Queens and performed thousands of antibody tests across all four locations. Hershkop said the percentage of antibody tests that came back positive had dropped in recent weeks but was still above 50%.
Gary Schlesinger, the CEO of Parcare, a chain of health care clinics, said his clinics in Williamsburg and Borough Park had seen antibody positive rates of 70-74%.
Nosson Hayum, a nurse practitioner at the Perfect Health Medical Center in Borough Park, said early results showed that teenage boys in the community had the highest rates of positive antibody test results.
A health care administrator at a large Williamsburg clinic that serves mostly Hasidic patients said she had seen antibody positive results of around 40%. But that number rose to 75% if you looked at males aged 18-34.
"It makes sense if you look at the population we're serving," the Williamsburg administrator said, noting that men in Hasidic communities have the most active lives outside the home, attending synagogue and often studying in yeshiva.
An especially high infection rate among young men is just one piece of the community's antibodies picture. Hasidic communities tend to be younger on average, with couples often having as many as eight children or more. According to the city's most recent population data, just over 50% of Borough Park's population is 24 years old or younger and 14% are under 6. Mounting evidence suggests that young children are unlikely to be sources of transmission for the coronavirus, meaning that Orthodox communities essentially have a disproportionately high share of dead ends for the virus, or at least a larger proportion of people who are at lower risk of becoming seriously ill.
Schlesinger, who is not a doctor, doesn't claim to know why the community has seen so few cases despite synagogues and schools reopening. But if you assume that antibodies confer immunity, he said, then the numbers point to herd immunity.
"If you're talking in the 70s and if herd immunity means something, then that's what it is," he said.
But Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an Orthodox rabbi, questioned whether any data from local clinics or groups like the Gedaliah Society in Crown Heights could show that a community had achieved herd immunity.
"Unless they're getting a random sampling of the community, statistically it's worth zero," he said.
Still, several epidemiologists and doctors studying the novel coronavirus acknowledged that it would be possible for Orthodox communities to have especially high rates of positive antibodies and the protection they may provide.
"I think there are likely segments, enclaves, whatever, where a large number of people in the Orthodox community have been infected and recovered and thus a major outbreak among that group is unlikely," said Dr. Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic who is leading a national study on the effects of convalescent plasma in treating COVID patients. Young Orthodox men were among the first participants in the study and have made up a large percentage of plasma donors.
Friday, July 10, 2020
There is growing evidence that some New York City neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic might have a unique advantage moving forward. "Some communities might have herd immunity," Daniel Frogel, who plays a key role in the city testing program through his role at CityMD, told The New York Times.
Antibody test results and reports from local health care clinics suggest that somewhere around 70% of the people in places such as Jackson Heights in Queens and Borough Park in Brooklyn have already had the coronavirus. This could mean they have inadvertently achieved a level of communal protection that has eluded countries that deliberately tried to get it – with deadly consequences.
Public health experts say that much more evidence is needed to prove that infections in hard-hit areas of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx actually exceeded the 70% mark. "Unless they're getting a random sampling of the community, statistically it's worth zero," one epidemiologist told the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
While scientists are also unsure whether COVID-19 herd immunity is even possible, the ongoing decline in cases in some city neighborhoods hints that asymptomatic people and those who eventually recover from COVID-19 cannot get the disease later on.
Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods are a developing case in point. The coronavirus hit these communities in early March before many social distancing restrictions were put in place. Hundreds of deaths later, there is a widespread perception that herd immunity has been achieved, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. "Otherwise, how do you explain zero cases after months of packed shuls, open schools, huge weddings?" one Brooklyn man asked the publication.
Such assumptions could turn out to be true, but some in the Orthodox community say a new normal without social distancing was hardly worth so much death and debilitating illness. "To benefit from the bad is something that makes me sad," one Brooklyn man who lost family members to COVID-19, told JTA. "But I can't have complaints that people live in the reality that exists."
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
A sign in front of the Hillel building in Madison was defaced with the words "Free Palestine" on Tuesday.
"Free Palestine" is a slogan used by some who argue that "Palestine" must be "freed." There have been similar signs and incidents at other campuses around America.
Many in the Jewish world have criticized calls to "Free Palestine," noting that Jews have lived in Palestine since well before the creation of the state of Israel; the Israeli military vacated the Gaza Strip years ago and it has since been a platform for terror; Judaism, through the Torah, is deeply tied to the land; and efforts to create a two-state solution have been scuttled in the past by Palestinian leadership.
The vandalism is a bias incident, said Madison Hillel President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Steinberger.
"We view this as being targeted. It's because of where and what it was," he said. "It's not like they tagged ten buildings in town."
Police are investigating.
Steinberger said Madison Hillel is a "place where Jewish students and the campus community can gather and participate in diversity on the issues of our time."
In a Facebook post, he wrote: "Our campus community is resilient and strong, and we will clean up the graffiti, work with the community on the investigation and move forward leading with our commitment to empowering students to build vibrant community based on values of love, respect, justice and peace. If you are seeking a place to talk and reflect on this or other issues, please be in touch. We are here for you, we care, and we need you too."
Madison Hillel is one of the largest Hillels in the nation, both by Jewish population and building size.
Tuesday, July 07, 2020
A last-ditch effort by Orthodox Jews in New York to clear the way for overnight camps this summer fell short on July 6 as a federal judge declined to intervene against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to keep the camps closed.
The judge was responding to a lawsuit brought last month by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, which represents Orthodox camps. By banning overnight camps while allowing day camps and protests, the suit argued, Cuomo was privileging some activities over others — a potential violation of the Constitution's First Amendment.
The camp organization, represented by the prominent Orthodox lawyer Avi Schick, sought a restraining order that would allow camps to operate while that legal question made its way through the courts.
But Judge Glenn Suddaby of the U.S. District Court in upstate New York said the suit's religious liberty argument was not immediately compelling.
"Overall, Plaintiffs have failed to show that Defendant's executive orders were taken because of, not merely in spite of, their religious practice," he wrote in his decision.
Cuomo has allowed day camps to open with restrictions, while other states have allowed overnight camps. Some Orthodox camps have opened outside of New York, with some even relocating because of the rule.
Monday, July 06, 2020
The mayor of Uman, a Ukrainian town where Hasidic Jews flock every year to visit the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, has spoken against this year's pilgrimage set to be held in September amid the uncertainty over the coronavirus spread developments.
"Every year about 30,000 pilgrims come to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic made adjustments to our life... It's a very difficult situation in the world and in Ukraine. In Uman, the situation is under control... But the arrival of a large number of foreigners from different countries could cause a coronavirus outbreak in our town," Mayor Oleksandr Tserbiy said in a video address he uploaded on Facebook.
He went on to express doubt that all pilgrims who would like to visit the town this year would have appropriate medical certificates with negative COVID-19 test results. Neither is the mayor sure visitors would actually undergo the required 14-day observation upon arrival and comply with all requirements of the adaptive quarantine Ukraine has introduced. Read also Ukraine's Health Minister comments on possibility of nationwide strict quarantine "The government foresees the second wave of coronavirus in September.
In the current situation, I stand against the arrival of pilgrims this year," the mayor emphasized. However, he noted, Uman residents' opinion must be heard, so he suggested that people leave comments under his post and have their say on the matter. Earlier in April, Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joël Lion has called on the Hasidim not to go on a pilgrimage to Uman amid the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of members of Hasidim come to Uman every year to visit the tomb of their spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
Thursday, July 02, 2020
The Chabad-Lubavitch movement estimates that 100,000 people on 45,000 devices gathered in an online Zoom event to honor the late Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Schneerson, who died in 1994, led the movement's transition from a small and insular Hasidic sect to an outward-facing global force. Tens of thousands visit his grave in Queens, New York, every year on the anniversary of his death. Things were different this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our focus is always to strengthen people's connection to the Rebbe," Rabbi Levi Slonim, a Chabad emissary to Binghamton, New York, and a member of the organizing committee, told Chabad.org. "This year, we needed to dig deeper and be more creative in order to accomplish our goal, but thank God, the event was deeply moving and the sheer magnitude of it was breathtaking."
The approximately 100,000 people who tuned in gathered in 26 different Zoom rooms to form one mega event dubbed "Barcheinu Avinu," or "Remembering Our Father." The event, which could be the largest ever on Zoom in the world, featured Torah speakers and singers.
Wednesday, July 01, 2020
About a month after Bill de Blasio personally led a police raid on a Hasidic rabbi's funeral in Brooklyn, which he portrayed as an intolerable threat in the era of COVID-19, New York's mayor visited the same borough to address a tightly packed crowd of protesters who had gathered in response to George Floyd's death. Far from ordering them to disperse in the name of public health, the unmasked mayor enthusiastically expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.
The contrast between de Blasio's anger at Jewish mourners and his solicitude toward political protesters figures prominently in last Friday's decision, where a federal judge deemed New York's pandemic-inspired restrictions on religious gatherings unconstitutional. The ruling, which said COVID-19 control measures violate the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom when they draw arbitrary distinctions between religious and secular conduct, is a warning to politicians across the country as they loosen the sweeping restrictions they imposed in the name of flattening the curve.
"Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite," de Blasio tweeted the day of the funeral raid. "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."
De Blasio added: "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 that period turned out to be a comma, followed by an exception for large outdoor gatherings promoting a cause that appealed to the mayor's progressive instincts. As U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe noted when he issued an injunction against New York's limits on religious services, both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo actively encouraged the recent protests against police brutality.
Sharpe agreed with the plaintiffs -- two Roman Catholic priests from upstate New York and three Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn -- that de Blasio and Cuomo had created a de facto distinction between religious and political gatherings. He also noted explicit restrictions on religious activities that did not apply to secular activities posing similar risks of virus transmission.
The rules limited attendance at indoor church and synagogue services to 25% of capacity, while allowing various businesses, including stores, offices, salons and restaurants, to operate at 50% of capacity and imposing no limit on special educational services. The state "specifically authorized outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies of no more than 150 people" while imposing a 25-person limit on outdoor religious gatherings, including masses, funerals and weddings.
The Supreme Court has said neutral, generally applicable laws that happen to restrict religious activities are consistent with the First Amendment. But it also has said laws that impose special burdens on religious activities are subject to strict scrutiny, meaning they are unconstitutional unless they are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
In a bit of good news from the federal judiciary, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe rebuked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for their blatant favoritism of mass protests over religious liberty.
Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from enforcing Cuomo's harsh statewide coronavirus restrictions on religious services in response to a suit brought by two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants. The suit brought against Cuomo, de Blasio, and New York Attorney General Letitia James argues that the defendants actively went after houses of worship to enforce strict social-distancing and maximum-capacity rules while purposely and openly supporting mass protests that led to looting and violence in New York City and in other locations around the state.
In one particular instance cited in the lawsuit, de Blasio attended and spoke at a June 4 protest (without a mask, by the way), then days later had the police kick a group of Hasidic Jewish children out of a park for not obeying the 10-person limit on "nonessential gatherings."
"Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests. … They could have also been silent," Sharpe wrote in the injunction. "But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment."
Leftist disdain for religion is well documented, but the way in which Cuomo and de Blasio acted is completely unconstitutional. They cannot uphold one part of the First Amendment while violating another part because it suits them. Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society, who represented the plaintiffs, noted, "This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on [the] pretext of public health. What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee."
Don't expect this to hobble Andrew Cuomo as he takes a completely unjustified post-lockdown victory lap. The governor told a group of sycophantic fans reporters last week that he is energized and excited by how his state emerged from the pandemic. New York suffered 31,000 virus deaths, far more than any other state, in some cases by large orders of magnitude. While Cuomo doesn't have anything to brag about, crow he still does.
Cuomo didn't stop with his self-lovefest, though. He also slung political mud at Republican-led Texas and Florida for their recent spike in COVID-19 cases, claiming this is what happens when states open up too early. Both of these states and others began opening up weeks ago, and healthcare professionals have yet to identify the source of the spike in new cases. Nor is the spike happening universally across all states that opened up early. Surely, nothing matches the 900 fatalities per day that New York experienced at its virus peak.
No matter. Cuomo has announced that people traveling to New York from Florida, Texas, Utah, and other states with statistically important virus spikes must quarantine in the state for 14 days. This is all but unenforceable. Virtually no one who comes to New York for a visit stays for two weeks. Even visitors from Europe only stay an average of nine days.
And how will health officials identify these people? Cuomo suggests random traffic stops of people with license plates from these states. You know, similar to the policy that Rhode Island was going to use against New York in March to prevent the spread of cases in its state. Of course, at the time, Cuomo decried this as discrimination.
Cuomo is really just trying to take the heat off of one of his own failed policies that directly led to the death of thousands of people in New York State — ordering that virus patients be moved into nursing homes, where the most vulnerable people live.
A New York Times study released Saturday concluded that nearly half of all virus-related deaths in the U.S. can be directly tied to nursing homes. Data collected for the study revealed that 282,000 people at 12,000 facilities nationwide were infected. And while nursing homes made up only 11% of all COVID-19 cases, they accounted for 43% of all COVID-related deaths.
Naturally, Cuomo blames Donald Trump, nursing-home staffs, and anyone else that crosses his sites, maybe even the Easter Bunny. But rest assured, as a loud, proud leftist, he sees himself as above reproach.
Monday, June 29, 2020
New York City was the center of the most severe coronavirus outbreak in the United States, with equally severe lockdown policies to match it. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio drew international attention for what seemed to be exceptionally strict enforcement of social distancing measures upon Orthodox Jewish communities.
As the Mayor walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Black Lives Matter protesters and turned a blind eye to unfettered looting, his police officers patrolled Brooklyn, threatening Hasidic communities with arrest for attending evening prayers.
De Blasio's uneven enforcement of lockdown policies earned him a rebuke from Eric Dreiband, the US Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. Dreiband's letter noted that even as de Blasio was actively endorsing Black Lives Matter protesters' First Amendment rights to peaceful protest, he was actively opposing Orthodox Jews' First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.
'During the period in which all gatherings were banned, you reportedly sent police officers to break up numerous gatherings of the Jewish community in New York, including reported outdoor gatherings for funerals,' read Dreiband's letter. 'In light of your support for and participation in recent protests in New York City, the message to the public from New York City's government appears to favor certain secular gatherings and disfavor religious gatherings.'
Eventually, Orthodox communities started to push back against de Blasio. A group of Jewish children displayed a sign reading 'Justice for George Floyd' at their carnival in the hopes that it would deter police interference. Videos of Jewish leaders taking a pair of bolt cutters to a lock that the city had placed on a neighborhood playground earned millions of views on social media.
Thursday, June 25, 2020
The Nyack College campus will become an all-boys Hasidic Yeshiva if the negotiated contract with an upstate entity is brought to fruition. Nyack College will sell the campus for approximately $45 million to an upstate Yeshiva, which is partnering with a developer for roughly half of the sale price, according to sources familiar with the deal.
Sources say the buyer plans to house between 200 to 300 students on campus at first, and to eventually develop the site into a family-based yeshiva.
"The Village has no legal authority to determine who the college sells to," said Village Attorney Jim Birnbaum. "It's a private entity. If the purchaser has a land-use application, then it will have to abide by the laws."
It is unclear as to whether the prospective buyer is aiming to buy the entire 107-acre campus but unlikely given the presumed selling price. In 2018, David C. Jennings, executive vice president and treasurer for Nyack College, said the sales price for all of what Nyack College owns — which includes the 37-acre site of the Alliance Theological Seminary on Route 9w in Upper Nyack, and a 22-acre parcel in Orangetown with a private residence where the college president lives — was priced near $100 million. This estimate was based on two appraisals, including one from the listed agent CBRE.
The heart of the college, which has more than 40 buildings, has operated for more than half century with protection for a pre-existing, nonconforming use. If they operate under the exact terms of Nyack College's existing special permit, the yeshiva would not need to seek special permits or permissions from the Village Board. That may change, depending upon its expansion plans.
However, according to the village code, the buyer of the land has a one-year window from the day Nyack College shut down its operation to preserve the right to continue its nonconforming use and operate an educational campus. Once the year mark passes, the land reverts back to R-18, or residential zoning. Nyack College originally slated a shutdown for the end of 2018 but reopened some of the campus temporarily in 2019. It is unclear as to whether the nonconforming use has been adequately preserved.
The zoning code also says the new owner must re-apply for a non-conforming use permit within 90 days of the closing.
Meanwhile, national housing companies like Toll Brothers have been looking at the vacant 22-acre parcel for housing development.
Sources have told RCBJ that the yeshiva plans to expand its function from an all-boys yeshiva to a family facility.
Village and area residents on Tuesday during a Zoom board meeting asked who the buyer is. Mayor Bonnie Christian said repeatedly she has no knowledge of the buyer.
A few residents asked if the village board if they were still considering eminent domain, which gives the government the right to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
"There is no present intent," said Birnbaum. "Not until we learn more."
This is the second time in less than two months that villagers have flocked to a Zoom meeting, concerned about sale of the college.
The Village of South Nyack's board of trustees voted last month to reject Nyack College's application for an amendment to the college's current special permit for its use of campus buildings for educational purposes and residential dormitories. The college was asking to amend its special permit from the Village of South Nyack to allow residential use in about half of the existing buildings for densities beyond the current zoning and outside of education use. The application requests a special permit for 22 of the 42 buildings. That represents 157,274 square feet, or only 33 percent, of the total square footage (467,666 square feet).
The application did not specify what it would ultimately do with the rest of the buildings.
The denial was done without prejudice, meaning the college or any purchaser can come back and seek either a new special permit rather than an amended one, or request to have parcels rezoned.
The basis for the denial was procedural, rather than substantive. In fact, the denial was based solely on the fact that the village code, as it exists, has no provision for any amendment to a special permit.
Nyack College had represented that the prospective buyer would potentially sell off single-family houses on the campus and re-purpose dormitories and existing buildings into multi-family housing on nearly 50 acres where some 38 college buildings are located.
Nyack College did not return emails seeking comment.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
When Rabbi Meyer Yosef Rottenberg, the leader of the Kosover Hasidic sect, sought to help young families priced out of Brooklyn in Linden, New Jersey, several years ago, he turned to Rabbi Avraham "Bobby" Katz for help.
Katz had cycled through a number of jobs in his life already, from postman to stockbroker to fundraiser. Within two years, he added community builder to his resume. By 2020, close to 100 Hasidic families were living in the New Jersey suburb.
"It's all Bobby's work," said his brother, David Katz. "He helped each and every person looking to buy a house. He helped with figuring out how to get a mortgage and with speaking to lawyers. Any help the young couples needed, this 70-year-old man spent late nights to give them."
Born in 1947 in Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic, Katz immigrated to Israel as a young child, living in Jaffa until 1954, when his parents boarded a ship bound for the United States to visit his aunt. Instead of returning to the newly established Jewish state, they stayed in Brooklyn.
In 1972, Katz opened a luncheonette in Borough Park and soon became known in the neighborhood for his generosity.
"Anybody who needed food was able to come in and get food," his brother recalled. "He was a big giver and had a heart of gold. He worked hard, but anybody who needed food or coffee or a bowl of soup would get it from Bobby."
After a subsequent stint as a fundraiser for one of the first Orthodox schools for special needs children, Katz went on to establish Caulktite, a building materials company that employed many people from the local Orthodox community. He was also a dedicated student of the Torah and could spend up to seven hours straight with a volume of Talmud, his brother said.
"Bobby was the greatest brother, but he was like a father as well, because my father was 67 when I was born," David Katz said. "So he was my brother, but also my father figure, because I lost my father at 19. My kids didn't lose an uncle, they lost a grandfather."
Katz died of COVID-19 on March 22. He was 73.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
The operators of sleepaway camps in the Catskills attended by thousands of Hasidic children, from Orange and Rockland counties, Brooklyn and elsewhere, are fighting in court to open those camps this week despite the objections of state health officials.
A Jewish camp organization that sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his closure decision in federal court in Albany last week filed a motion on Monday for the judge hearing the case to issue temporary orders to let their camps open as planned on Thursday while the lawsuit is pending.
The state's refusal to let overnight camps open because of coronavirus fears has vexed Orthodox families from New York and New Jersey that send their children to camps in the Catskills every summer for religion-infused recreation. The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel alone has thousands of kids that attend camps in Sullivan and Ulster counties.
Machne Bais Ruchel, is a large summer camp for girls that is run by the United Talmudical Academy in Kiryas Joel. IT is located in South Fallsburg, N.Y. June 22, 2020.
Camp operators had sent Sullivan County officials a letter in early May, urging them to support the opening of camps and stressing the protective measures they planned to take and their ability to "enforce a full and total lockdown" if anyone caught COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. They also noted the camps' economic value to the county.
"Camps, traditionally, pump many millions of dollars into the local economy," the letter read. "We love Sullivan County and see ourselves as partners in an economically viable and safe environment."
At least one Satmar summer camp has found temporary quarters in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to continue operating this year. Machne Rav Tov Satmar, which is in the Ulster County hamlet of Kerhonkson and caters to girls in grades 9-11, has rented bungalows in Wayne County, Pa., for its programs this summer, the Brooklyn website BoroPark24 reported last week.
New York has allowed day camps to open on June 29 but ruled out overnight camping this summer. In a statement on June 12, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said that the group settings and sleeping quarters at sleepaway camps made it too difficult to maintain social distancing and control the spread of the virus.
"In such a setting, even a single positive case in a camper or staff member could create an untenable quarantine situation and overwhelm camp health personnel that may not be able to handle a serious infectious outbreak of this nature," Zucker said.
The federal lawsuit filed on Thursday by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators and four parents argues that the prohibition violates religious rights and is inconsistent with the state letting other non-essential activities proceed. It zeroes in particularly on the large public demonstrations against racism that have taken place for weeks in New York with Cuomo's support.
Machne Bais Ruchel, is a large summer camp for girls that is run by the United Talmudical Academy in Kiryas Joel. IT is located in South Fallsburg, N.Y. June 22, 2020.
The suit emphasizes the religious immersion and separation from the secular world afforded by the summer camps.
"Jewish overnight camps foster a sense of cultural identity and instill traditional religious values in Jewish children," the case read. "In Jewish overnight camps, they jointly recite prayers three times a day. Part of every day is devoted to religious study. They recite blessings over the food they eat throughout the day."
Though coronavirus infections are relatively low among children, Cuomo has pointed to the risk that those who do catch the virus can develop a potentially deadly illness known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which resembles Kawasaki disease and causes organs to become inflamed.
"Nobody knows what the virus does longer term and this Kawasaki-like syndrome is the first glimpse that we're seeing that could affect children," Cuomo said in a radio interview last week.
Among the larger Satmar camps in the Catskills are Camp Rav Tov D'Satmar, a boys camp near Monticello that had roughly 3,000 campers from ages 9 to 13 as of 2014, according to an article that year in the New York Times. Also cited in that story was Machne Bais Rochel in South Fallsburg, which was attended by about 2,200 girls.
More than 40,000 kids in all attend camps represented by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, according to the federal lawsuit. The case outlines numerous steps the camps plan to take to protect campers and staff from the coronavirus, including banning anyone with a high-risk medical history or any staffer over 50 who doesn't test positive for antibodies indicating they already had and overcame COVID-19.
"These health protocols will ensure that the overnight camps are as safe, if not safer, than the State-approved child care and day camp programs," the complaint read. "These protocols include mandatory and recommended practices relating to protective equipment, recreational and food activities, hygiene, cleaning, and disinfection, communication, and screening."
Monday, June 22, 2020
Rep. Yvette Clarke faced the battle of her political life in a Democratic primary in 2018 — and she's got an even trickier rematch on her hands with community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko.
The seven-term Brooklyn congresswoman insists she's a steady leader for New York's Ninth District, which has been at the center of both the coronavirus pandemic and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
"I have been on the progressive front lines of every single issue impacting our diverse district," Clarke said.
Bunkeddeko came within a surprising 2,000 votes of unseating Clarke two years ago. He's back for another shot in Tuesday's primary, claiming that Clarke is "out of touch and out of step."
"People are hungry for change," said Bunkeddeko. "They are fed up with the status quo. They want bolder and more transformative leadership."
The face-off is not a simple rerun of their 2018 battle. Clarke won by 53%-47% in the district that stretches through central Brooklyn, from progressive Prospect Heights and Crown Heights through Flatbush and into Midwood.
Councilmember Chaim Deutch, who represents a chunk of the less-liberal southern part of the district, is running this time. So is Isiah James, a self-styled progressive insurgent whose slogan is: "It's Time for Brooklyn To Join the Revolution."
Deutsch could peel off a slice of support from Clarke, who boasted of strong support from Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish voters in past races. But James could cost Bunkeddeko some liberal votes in the leafy brownstone neighborhoods around Prospect Park.
A last-minute controversy rocked the contest last week when Bunkeddeko charged that Clarke's campaign deliberately darkened his face in a flyer. Clarke rejected the claim as "preposterous."
Neighborhoods in the district have suffered some of the highest death rates in the entire nation from COVID-19. And it has been a hot spot for the mass rallies against racism and police brutality that have shaken the city and country.
All the candidates concede that the pandemic and the protests are wild cards in the race. But it's not clear who will benefit.
The pandemic has scrapped most traditional campaigning and most voters are expected to cast absentee ballots, raising questions about relative turnout in the candidates' strongholds.
Deutsch has echoed President Trump's complaints about the looting that accompanied some of the protests and shutdown of businesses to limit the spread of coronavirus. That may play well in Midwood but any perceived sympathy with Trump is political poison in the rest of the dark-blue district.
Bunkeddeko, 32, the son of Ugandan immigrants who has worked for community nonprofits, says the pandemic and racism crises underline the need for a louder voice from Brooklyn.
"For over a decade, Ms. Clarke was asleep at the wheel and her inaction has led to less affordable housing, less justice and less opportunity for the people of the district," he said.
Clarke, 55, is the scion of a legendary political family and succeeded her mother, Una Clarke, a councilmember.
She points out that she is the only black woman in the New York congressional delegation, a powerful selling point for the seat once held by trailblazing Rep. Shirley Chisholm.
"I will continue to be a vocal leader in Washington, D.C.," she said.
On a Wednesday morning in mid-March, Mimmy Schaeffer bumped into her friend Ilana Ybgi outside a nail salon in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The pair, both members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Judaism, met as coworkers in the fall. Schaeffer, 22, was desperately looking for a place to get her nails done, as the city was quickly shutting down for COVID-19. The last time they'd spoken, Ybgi, 35, had been planning a late-March wedding in London. Schaeffer had been planning her own Crown Heights ceremony to be held around the same time. But due to a last-minute change of plans, Schaeffer's nuptials were now the next day, March 19, hence the mani emergency. Unbeknownst to her, so were Ybgi's.
"I would have loved to be there from a distance if it wasn't [the date of] my own wedding," Schaeffer told her.
The coronavirus has hit New York's ultra-Orthodox communities particularly hard, in part due to the many tight-knit and intergenerational households. Despite taking preventative measures, Chabad.org cites roughly 40 COVID-19 related deaths in Crown Heights, where a majority of its 20,000 Jewish residents identify with Chabad-Lubavitch, according to spokesman Rabbi Motti Seligson. On March 17, the Chabad headquarters and flagship synagogue closed for the first time in history.
Many weddings, however, have continued — albeit with precautions in place. Schaeffer had dated her now-husband, Mendy, for less than two months before planning their 500-person wedding for late March in Crown Heights. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 500 people on March 12, the couple decided to reschedule. (On May 22, the governor updated his guidelines to allow gatherings of up to 10 people, who must observe social distancing.) Mendy's parents live in Canada, so when rumors started swirling about closing the Canadian border, they knew time was of the essence. They chose a new, earlier date, March 19; a different venue in Morristown, New Jersey; and planned the event in 48 hours.
The gathering was small — just their nuclear families, with whom they'd each been quarantining, a few cousins, and Schaeffer's best friend, who doubled as her makeup artist. A few people were uneasy about the event, but everyone wore masks and gloves and sanitized their hands often. Rather than hiring a caterer, they opted for Chinese takeout served in individual containers. After the ceremony, there was contact-free dancing, where guests held napkins instead of hands. Speakers and a playlist replaced a live band, to limit their numbers. In Hasidic weddings, men and women remain separated for dancing, but because there were so few people, the couple chose to dance together with their families, which wouldn't have happened if all had gone according to the original plan. "It was just about us connecting with one another," Schaeffer says. "I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Neither, it seems, would many other couples. Yehudis Cohen works as an assistant principal at Machon L'Yahadus, a post-secondary school for Jewish women in Crown Heights. Five of her students have gotten married recently, and she estimates there have been at least 24 nuptials since mid-March. According to Rabbi Yonah Blum, associate director of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality and Society, celebrating a wedding would never override saving lives. "Since gathering at a wedding is dangerous now, postponing the wedding is mandated," Blum says. "Unless, as many have recently figured out how to do, a creative alternative to the traditional crowd-gathering is used."
Ybgi and her now-husband, Srulick, got engaged in late February. They were planning to get married in a London cricket field on March 30, in a quaint affair with 120 guests. But on March 11, President Donald Trump announced he'd begin banning travelers from Europe to the U.S. As a precaution, the couple cancelled their overseas event and set a new date, March 19, for a hometown ceremony. They had one week to plan a new wedding.
"Things started shutting down minute by minute, but we were holding on tightly to the fact that we wanted to have a wedding," Ybgi says. She called a Crown Heights wedding planner, who booked a small venue for the first part of the ceremony and planned for an outdoor chuppah, the canopy under which Jewish weddings occur, to be arranged in front of the Chabad World Headquarters.
They thought it'd be too risky for their parents to attend, and as traditional Jewish nuptials require a quorum of ten Jewish men, they improvised. They gathered ten volunteers from the street, who agreed to stand six feet apart for the outdoor ceremony. For the second half of the event, the small wedding party — a couple friends, their rabbi, yeshiva students, and a photographer — walked the few blocks from the reception hall to the chuppah. "A few of the people stood half a block away, which was bittersweet," she says. Passersby cheered, and the event was livestreamed to thousands of people via Instagram and Facebook. "I felt the world was in need of healing," Ybgi says. "The joy of getting married was against the backdrop of a lot of fear. It allowed such a deep reflection."
It's now been over three months since the weddings, and neither woman regrets her decision. Fortunately, no one got sick. "I've had some of the most precious moments of my entire life in the last three months," says Ybgi, who's been explaining the Black Lives Matter protests to her three stepdaughters, ages 9, 6, and 4. "I wouldn't have wanted to wait."
Schaeffer agrees. "Marriage is a journey," she says. "I never want to feel too settled."
Friday, June 19, 2020
A prominent media ethics watchdog in Poland has accused a state broadcaster of inciting anti-Semitic sentiment.
The claim by the Polish Council of Media Ethics in a statement Thursday follows a TVP report earlier in the week warning that a leading presidential candidate would offer compensation for property lost to Jews during or after the Holocaust.
"Experts are certain. The stream of money that is flowing from the state budget into the pockets of Polish families will dry up if Trzaskowski, after a potential victory in the presidential election, seeks to satisfy Jewish claims," TVP reported Monday.
The report was referring to Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is considered the leading candidate among nine hopefuls running against the incumbent, Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice party.
Trzaskowski has not publicly declared intentions to offer restitution.
In its statement the council — a nongovernmental organization established by the Association of Polish Journalists — wrote that "inciting anti-Semitism, racism and hatred against minorities is not in the interest of the country."
Sebastian Rejak, acting director of the American Jewish Committee Central Europe Office, had complained about the report to the ethics council, calling it "the age-old anti-Semitic prejudice in which Jews are associated with money and international conspiracies that can harm Poland."
Poland has returned millions in compensation for property that was owned by Jewish communities, but it is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc that has taken no action to return private property, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
Resistance to efforts by the United States, Israel and Jewish groups to have Poland offer such compensation has become a major theme for the political right in Poland. Some estimate that the claims could run to the billions of dollars.
TVP has not responded to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's request for comment.
Thursday, June 18, 2020
New York City's mayor, already accused of being an anti-Semite, is being sued for violating religious rights while allowing tens of thousands to protest and riot in the streets.
The Big Apple was devastated by COVID-19, leading to lockdowns that remain in place, but those restrictions seemed to vanish when protesters and rioters hit the streets after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
"The idea that there should be any limitation for gatherings at this point, anywhere in the state of New York, should basically be dismissed out of hand," says Christopher Ferrara, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which is representing two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews in a lawsuit filed this week.
The lawsuit names Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state's attorney general, Letitia James.
CNN, among other news outlets, wrote a glowing story about the "Black Trans Lives Matter" rally in New York City, held June 15, where thousands filled Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.
The 30-paragraph story failed to mention the city's "Phase 1" lockdown, however.
The next day, June 16, city workers were filmed welding the gates of a public park in Brooklyn and then later returned with chains to secure the gates.
The park, known as Middleton Playground, is frequented by the area's Hasidic Jews but was shut down May 31 after the public failed to follow "social distancing" rules.
"That's not public health. That's just a grudge match," Ferrara tells OneNewsNow. "When you're in that situation, there is only one word to describe it: tyranny."
Mayor de Blasio, in fact, had already defended the mass protests weeks earlier while the city government was enforcing its lockdown rules on houses of worship.
Because the country is "grappling" with a race crisis "seated in 400 years of American racism," de Blasio told reporters on June 2, "I'm sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services."
The city's Jewish leaders who witnessed that comparison had already watched their city government shut down a Hasidic rabbi's funeral in late April.
The mayor called the gathering "absolutely unacceptable" in a Twitter post.
After the park gates were secured with chains Tuesday, Jewish leaders showed up with bolt cutters later that evening and cut the chains. A grinder was used to open locked gates at Midwood, another public park in Brooklyn.
"We're not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands," de Blasio said of the chain-cutting defiance.
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Videos circulating on social media recently show New York City Parks employees welding shut a playground in the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We have seen footage of the New York Police Department and NYC Parks Police in Boro Park shepherding Hasidic children out of a park and locking it shut behind them.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands are allowed to protest in Brooklyn, while a maskless Mayor Bill de Blasio poses for photo-ops, ignoring the social-distancing guidelines his administration ruthlessly enforces against Jewish children and families.
The hypocrisy is stunning — and appalling.
Is it too much to ask for consistent leadership in the Big Apple? Is it too much to ask that our mayor enforce policies equally, across the board? Is it too much to ask that the mayor practice what he preaches or even set an example, instead of scurrying after the most popular position of the week, gung-ho about lockdowns two weeks ago — and gung-ho about mass protests today?
And why are our children becoming the victims of this whiplash-inducing virtue-signaling?
If it were only the mayor taking dumb stances, perhaps we could chalk it up to de Blasio being de Blasio. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn't exactly the beacon of leadership that he projected at the outset of this crisis. On Friday, he took the confounding step of banning sleepaway camps in New York state this summer.
Sleepaway camps: an enclosed campus where kids could be easily monitored and contained. Where city kids could go to get fresh air, run around and see their friends. (After all, they can't go to the playground!)
So when New York City begins Phase Two at the end of June, a parent will be able to go to his office job, get a haircut at his local barbershop, then visit a clothing store to pick up a new pair of pants. But a child, who has been cooped up alone at home since March — can he go to camp or even the playground down the block? Heaven forfend!
And before you tell me that day camps are permitted to be open, yes, that's true. But many have shut their doors owing to financial insecurity. And because of limiting guidelines, the ones that are remaining open can't possibly sustain the thousands of children who are suddenly left with no plans for the summer.
When we enter Phase Three in July, as kids are still sitting at home twiddling their thumbs, adults will be permitted to dine inside restaurants, visit a spa and work out at the gym. And at the end of July, as kids become permanently fused to the sofa, their parents can take in Broadway shows or perhaps even attend concerts.
By the way, how are parents supposed to be able to rejoin the workforce and get our city back up and running if they've got children at home all day with nowhere to go?
And can someone point out to me the date when we anointed Cuomo emperor of New York State, and de Blasio king of New York City? Last time I checked, we lived in a democracy. The state of emergency has passed — the curve is flattened. Why are we still permitting elected leaders to unilaterally make decisions, with no input from legislators and stakeholders?
They serve us, the people. We aren't subject to their whims, and our children don't deserve to be pawns in this strange tug of war.
Our kids have suffered tremendously from this COVID-19 shutdown. They've missed out on so much, and they've lost out on experiences that can never be regained.
And you know what, as parents, we were willing to keep our kids at home to protect them, and to protect the people whom they would otherwise come in contact with. It was hard, but we did because it was the right thing to do. That was three months ago.
New York City's kids have been through enough. Let us not be so heartless as to take away their summer, too.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Members of the Orthodox Jewish community used bolt cutters to "liberate" a Brooklyn playground the city welded shut because of COVID-19 concerns Monday.
The city welded a gate shut at the Middleton Playground in Williamsburg after the locks to the park were cut at least 25 times, Parks Department officials said. Hours later, workers removed the welding and replaced it with a chain, which Orthodox Jewish leaders cut Monday night.
A video posted on Twitter just before 6 p.m. showed three Orthodox men, one wearing a mask, cut the chain locking the playground while a group of children with uncovered faces watched and cheered.
"Playgrounds across the City are closed for the safety of our children, and we will engage with this community to find a solution," a city Parks Department spokeswoman said Monday night.
Gov. Cuomo ordered playgrounds closed April 1. On Thursday, Cuomo said it would be up to local municipalities to decide when to reopen them.
"Each locality will determine when public pools and playgrounds will open in their region. They must use health data & metrics as a guide to inform each decision," Cuomo Tweeted.
Dozens of children frolicked in the playground at 8 p.m. Monday, while adults and children roamed the streets nearby, most of them not wearing masks.
Moshi Blum, 32, said the neighborhood's residents were enraged that their children couldn't use the playground while thousands of George Floyd protesters could packed together on city streets.
"Most of us have large families," he said. "We see thousands gather, why should this be a problem?"
"We believe COVID-19 is over," Blum said.
Another resident, Joel Finestein, 28, called the playground "essential."
"I don't see any crime," he said. "I see social distancing."
The playground was one of 10 locked up at the end of March because people consistently ignored official warnings to socially distance to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Monday, June 15, 2020
A gate at the closed Williamsburg playground was closed Monday after people repeatedly rushed to get inside during the coronavirus shutdown.
The move by city workers Monday at Middleton Playground provoked parents, saying the playground had to be opened and not closed.
"How long can we keep our children in jail?" A mother of six was asked, mainly in the Hasidic area of Brooklyn, who declined to be named. "I don't feel like I'm living in a free country."
Workers at the playground, which borders Lee Avenue and Lynch and Middleton streets, declined to comment. But one heard the parents say: "We don't know when it will open, but hopefully within a week or two. At the moment, it is closed. "
The Parks Department later said the welding was a short-term fix after the locks were repeatedly busted, and the playground will return to use the locks on Monday afternoon.
"In this playground, a temporary measure was used to close the playground after it was breached," spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson said in a statement. "It will be unveiled today and replaced with a lock."
The city's playgrounds have been closed since April 1, when Andrew Cuomo took this option from the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the pandemic was raging from New York. At the time, the governor's office said they had taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the US over the past few months.
Three months after the coronavirus shutdown, and when the weather warmed up, the mother of six said she had no way to entertain her children.
"We already did everything. We baked, we did puzzles, we read, we cook," she says. "It's a very beautiful atmosphere. Why can't they be outside?"
One area person who has questioned the hypocrisy of adults packing city parks, often without masks or social-distance, is when the children are locked out.
"Other parks are filled with adults, and the park is closed for children," he said. "Adults can see a park, but you can't allow children to play? It doesn't make sense. "
Community activist Gary Schlesinger called a different kind of double-standard, saying the city had done nothing to discourage the recent mass protests seeking justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a black Minneapolis policeman on May 25 while kneeling in the neck.
"You have ten thousand people marching without social distance and it feels like the story of two cities," he says. "Parents of children living in this community are very angry about this because you have been talking about large families restricted to small apartments for weeks and weeks. The mayor's office should be aware of this, but it's the complete opposite for him."
The children of the community took to the streets last week demanding the opening of the Cuomo sleeping summer camp, but the bid was burned by the governor.
"We have been dealing with families who have been imprisoned in their homes for three months, and they can't go and breathe clean air?" Said David Neiderman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn. "Kids can't have what they need. It's fresh air."