Ultra-Orthodox Rage Against Fresh COVID-19 Clampdown in New York

Spencer Platt / .

Hours before a new coronavirus crackdown began in New York City, Borough Park was furious.

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of public and private schools in 20 New York City zip codes where positivity rates had soared in recent weeks, most of which are home to large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Anger was already palpable that afternoon in the streets of one of the city’s hottest hot spots, a traditional home for New York’s Hasidic population.

“This is all political theater,” raged Mike Weber, whose teenage sons attend the Nesivos Hatalmud yeshiva, standing unmasked outside the facility at the northern end of the neighborhood. “I am not concerned about the crown, I am concerned about the children.”

Religious education institutions, attended by the vast majority of students in affected neighborhoods, were already closed for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which ends Friday. But almost every yeshiva in Borough Park had an attached sukkah – a temporary enclosure, somewhere between a tent and a hut – from which largely unmasked men and boys flocked all afternoon.

The governor’s order on Monday left those places of worship intact – only for him to decree on Tuesday that they could only accommodate 10 people at a time.

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Even community leaders who approved the decision to close the yeshivas and take further pandemic containment measures in the world‘s former coronavirus epicenter have denounced the relentless and contradictory messages from Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio . The governor’s order on Monday came a day after the mayor called for the closure of not only schools but local businesses, and to start this program not on Tuesday but on Wednesday. Cuomo’s initial order this week was only for schools, only for him to step down on Tuesday and order non-essential businesses in designated “red zones” to shut down as well.

This latest announcement was light on details, but included numerous complaints from the governor about how the city’s inability to crack down on social distancing and the mask’s misdeeds made the new crackdown necessary.

The story continues

“If the plan I adopted were actually implemented, we wouldn’t be here,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany.

The jockey fits a pattern dating back to the early days of the pandemic, when Cuomo undermined de Blasio’s efforts to impose a stay-at-home order and switch students to distance learning in all five boroughs – before d ‘issue such orders itself.

“We had a problem with a consistent message from the city, state, community,” Dr. Alan Kadish, Orthodox Jewish physician and president of Touro College, a private Jewish university in New York, told The Daily Beast. “When you have a press conference where city and state are at odds, it’s harder for the community to feel a partnership with one voice that says, ‘Here’s what we need to do to get things right. , we must do to keep the children educated ”. It’s frustrating.”

Cuomo’s office did not provide an official statement before the deadline. The mayor’s office told The Daily Beast it had run 7,443 tests on the nine postcodes with the highest positivity rates – while taking an apparent blow to the governor’s pressure to crack down on violators.

“While others focus primarily on ‘law enforcement’ / ticketing, the city feels we need to have an ‘all of the above’ approach that is ramping up in testing, education, awareness and law enforcement. This is what has been proven, ”said spokesperson Bill Neidhardt.

In response to the governor’s directives, Touro will close not only its higher education and research institutions, but also a yeshiva it operates in the prominent postcode of Kew Gardens Hills in Queens next week. Kadish called the school closure order “medically reasonable”.

Less reasonable, he argued, was a failure of state and city governments to collaboratively chart a path for schools to reopen if the positivity rate declines. Several of the parents The Daily Beast spoke to this week claimed – without evidence – that any second wave of coronavirus was less severe than the first and that the high proportion of infections in religious Jewish communities was a consequence of the fact that only sick people took the test.

“It’s only a few percent increase, it’s not like it used to be. It’s completely different now, ”complained Jack Brody, whose 20 grandchildren attend schools dotted around Borough Park, as he prepared to join a mass of other men unmasked inside the town. succumb to the United Talmudical Academy.

Kadish said there was evidence to support these claims, but more study was needed. This is why it is essential, he argued, that de Blasio and Cuomo establish a roadmap for reopening schools that engages the wider population of Borough Park and gets them tested. Gothamist, meanwhile, reported last week that some local leaders appeared to be taking action to deflate the number of COVID-19 tests in besieged Orthodox areas.

“Any proposal to close schools should be accompanied by widespread testing this week, so we know how big the problem is,” Kadish said. “With the right encouragement, especially saying that there is a willingness to open schools as soon as possible if the infection rate decreases, it will galvanize the community to access available resources for testing.”

The impact of the conflicting directives from Albany and Town Hall was evident on the ground at Borough Park. A local rabbi, who asked to speak anonymously because his yeshiva council had not allowed him to comment, pointed to the gap between Cuomo’s school shutdown order and Blasio’s will also to close shops as proof that the whole plan was arbitrary and politically motivated.

“Why didn’t he shut down all the businesses? Because all of the business owners said it would be the last nail in the coffin for them, ”the rabbi alleged. “The kids just can’t speak for themselves, but this is the last nail in the coffin for them.

The religious leader has raised fears that young children will be years behind in teaching reading while high school students may miss the state’s Regents exams for the second time, after New York City canceled the annual assessments due to this spring’s pandemic.

Kadish and other experts explained the special sensitivity around the yeshivas, which have been a point of tension for years. Critics and local dissidents have long complained that some schools do not provide adequate secular education, and the city has closed several that did not require the vaccination of students during a deadly measles outbreak year round. last.

Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel, vice president of the non-profit organization Agudath Israel, noted that many ultra-Orthodox practitioners lack internet connections and other technologies that allow children to study remotely. and parents to get reliable information on current events, including the pandemic. In the view of many, the yeshivas are the only way to ensure the continuity of ultra-Orthodox traditions.

“As a community, there is nothing more precious and important to us than passing on the Jewish heritage to our children and to the next generation,” said Zwiebel. “It is the central religious obligation that parents have towards their children of the Jewish faith. And that is to ensure that the next generation will be part of the connection that goes back to Sinai. You need Jewish schools.

But the mayor’s office does not have the power to reopen schools now that Cuomo has closed them. And a coordination roadmap for the resumption of on-site courses is still lacking.

“We have the opportunity to do widespread testing this week, to demonstrate what the real infection rate is, to see what the real hospitalization rates are and to determine when schools can be allowed to open,” said Kadish. “If we don’t take this opportunity, then the decision is a bad decision, because this time will be wasted.”

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