• Sat. Jan 23rd, 2021

Protest erupts in Orthodox Jewish community over new coronavirus restrictions

Hundreds of members of an Orthodox Jewish community in New York City protested new state restrictions for areas with a spike in coronavirus cases, while a group of lawmakers and a Catholic bishop also spoke out against the planned clampdown.

Protesters in the neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, on Tuesday night blocked traffic and lit a “small, rubbish fire,” according to the city fire department.

Some threw pieces of cardboard and masks into the flames, NBC New York reported.

They were responding to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement Tuesday of new restrictions in areas with the biggest clusters of cases, which would limit attendance at houses of worship to 25 percent capacity up to 10 people maximum. Nonessential businesses in the areas are to close under the new rules, as are schools, which will operate remotely.

Four elected officials who represent heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in the city released a joint statement on Tuesday evening, saying they were “appalled” by the governor’s actions.

“His administration’s utter lack of coordination and communication with local officials has been an ongoing issue since the start of the pandemic, and particularly recently as we face this uptick,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder, state Assembly member Simcha Eichenstein, and City Council members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger.

“Though we are the representatives of ‘hotspots’ neighborhoods, we have been disincluded from conversations with the governor and his leadership team as they made devastating decisions affecting the people we serve.”

The lawmakers added that the move felt targeted toward the Orthodox Jewish community, and it was “disgraceful” that Gov. Cuomo imposed new restrictions during the celebration of the Sukkot holiday.

Roman Catholic Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn also issued a press release opposing the plan.

“Catholic Churches in Brooklyn and Queens have not had any COVID outbreaks or significant cases since re-opening on July 5th to 25% capacity,” DiMarzio said. “The safety of parishioners is paramount for the Diocese of Brooklyn, but the religious freedom of our parishioners is being unjustly attacked.”

The governor in a tweet Wednesday indicated that the state sees the actions as necessary.

“In the hotspot ZIP codes the positivity rate is 5.1%,” Cuomo tweeted. “We are taking quick action to respond to the clusters & stop the spread.”

Partial lockdown for nine hot-spot zip codes is expected to go into effect “no later than Friday,” according to the governor’s office.

Authorities said no arrests were made at the street protests as firefighters and police officers put out the fire and dispersed the crowd early Wednesday morning.

An unidentified man was physically harassed by a large group of protesters, but it was unclear what led to the incident, New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito told NBC News.

“Deputies took the person into protective custody, placed him in a vehicle for safekeeping and drove him away from the crowd,” Fucito said in an email.

Brooklyn City Council candidate Harold “Heshy” Tischler, an anti-mask and anti-crowd restriction advocate, was among those who attended the demonstration.

According to NBC New York, Tischler asked the crowd: “Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio, think we’re nobodies. Are we nobodies?” He was met with a resounding “no” in response.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday that the new restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks.

Violating rules on mass gatherings can lead up to $15,000 in fines.

“It’s up to all of us,” the mayor said. “I feel for everyone in the communities who will be affected. If we act quickly and decisively we can overcome this for all of us, for the whole city. We need to stop this outbreak dead in its tracks.”