With a rise of COVID-19 cases in Brooklyn and other Orthodox Jewish enclaves around the state, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill “Warren” DiBlasio “Wilhelm” have decided to enforce restrictions on religious services and to order the shut down of Yeshivas. The rise in COVID-19 cases has been high within several Jewish communities. Cuomo said 20 New York zip codes have 5.1 percent positivity rates when compared to the statewide average of 1.5 percent. Those areas include Brooklyn, Queens, and Rockland and Orange Counties.
“The focus is on the hot spots. Why? Number one, we want to save lives in the hot spots. Number two, we want to make sure the infection rate in the hot spots does not spread. The spread is inevitable if we do not control the hot spot. There are facts, even if they’re unpleasant. And we know because we have lived it, and every expert will tell you, and our experience shows it, if you do not control the infection rate it will spread,” Cuomo said. “We announced a Cluster Action Initiative yesterday and we’re focused on it and we’re enforcing it and we will continue to do that. Some people are unhappy. I understand it. These limitations are better than going back to closedown which is what happens when the infection increases. It’s what we’ve seen in states all cross the nation, right? Open up, infection rate goes up, they close down. We have been more phased and more calibrated in our response so when you see the infection rate go up, I have a great graphic that I like – that probably only I like – which shows a valve, you start to close the valve when you see the infection rate going up. Infection rate is going up, we’re backing off on the valve, reduce the activity, get the infection rate under control.”
Jewish residents in those communities last night celebrated the annual holiday of Sukkot and took the streets en masse and celebrated…and protested. Piles of facemasks were burned in defiance of the looming crackdown against the community which is scheduled to begin Friday, according to Cuomo.
Cuomo said he is escalating enforcement out of love and respect for the Orthodox Jewish communities of New York.
“I have been friends with them all my life and my father before me by the way. We go way back and it’s out of respect and it’s out of love and it’s because I want to protect them. In Jewish teaching, one of the most precious principles is saving a life. To save a life,” Cuomo said. “The Torah speaks about how certain religious obligations can be excused, if you are going to save a life. This is about saving a life. That’s what this is. No large gatherings in synagogues to save a life. You look at where the infection rate is, you look at those clusters, people will die in those clusters and this is about protecting people and saving lives. And I felt very good about my conversation with the Orthodox community and I thank them for their help in their cooperation.”
Agudath Israel of America protested Cuomo’s targeting of the Jewish community that will essentially create a “red zone” around communities with high positivity rates.
“Governor Cuomo’s surprise mass closure announcement today, and limit of 10 individuals per house of worship in “red zones,” is appalling to all people of religion and good faith. We have been down this path before, when religious practices were targeted for special treatment by the Governor’s Executive Order in May. A suit was filed challenging the Governor’s Order then (in which Agudath Israel filed an amicus brief), and the court found it unconstitutional. Repeating unconstitutional behavior does not make it lawful,” Agudath Israel of America said. “Moreover, it should be made clear that the Governor’s reference to a “good conversation” he had earlier today with a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders was largely a one-way monologue, and contained no mention of this new plan. Agudath Israel intends to explore all appropriate measures to undo this deeply offensive action.”
The organization also urged the Jewish community to comply with health and safety recommendations to help stop the spread of the virus.
“A final message to our community: We have considerable concerns that Governor Cuomo’s capricious actions will weaken compliance with good health practices. We cannot allow our – perhaps justifiable – anger at government to imperil our neighbors’ health,” Agudath Israel said in a statement.