New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's move to impose stricter restrictions at houses of worship met with strong protests from the Orthodox Jewish community. The restrictions were imposed in nine areas of New York City including Brooklyn and Queens that has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases.
According to the new rules, religious gatherings will be limited to 10 people, non-essential businesses will be closed and dining across the nine areas will be temporarily stopped to curb the spread of coronavirus. A sizeable population of Orthodox Jewish community reside in the areas where Cuomo placed restrictions. On Tuesday, the governor said he spoke with the community leaders and sought their cooperation to follow the guidelines, which were "positively received."
However, State Sen. Simcha Felder, state Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and city councilmen Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch slammed Cuomo by calling the restrictions "scientifically and constitutionally questionable" and said they were not included in the discussions. In a joint statement, the four officials said the governor singled out their community and the news rules were "draconian."
"[It] is disgraceful that Governor Cuomo would impose these restrictions targeting our community in the midst of our Jewish holidays. Because of his unilateral and irresponsible acts, our community is rightfully shocked, angered and highly frustrated. Americans are constitutionally permitted to worship freely, and Governor Cuomo may be assured that we intend to exercise that right without his reference," the statement read.
In on Brooklyn area, 18 percent of those who got coronavirus tests since the start of this month were tested positive, the Associated Press reported citing city-data. The rate was in contrast to 3.9 percent of positive tests elsewhere in the city.
Orthodox Jews Gather in Brooklyn to Protest
On Tuesday night, about 80 Orthodox Jews took to the streets in Brooklyn to protest the new restrictions. Videos of the protest shared on social media showed the community members burning a pile of masks in the middle of the streets. Firefighters arrived at the scene to douse the fire.
Councilman Yeger took part in the demonstrations and told the protesters that the government was "wrong" in implementing the rules. "We're going to be safe. We're going to be smart. We're going to wear masks. ... I don't care who in government thinks that they can stop us. They're wrong. Let them try," he said.
Counter Protester and Jewish Reporter Assaulted
A counter-protester — an Orthodox Jew — was allegedly beaten by the protesters for telling them to wear masks, according to a Twitter user. He was said to have been beaten with rocks and was in critical condition.
Jacob Kornbluh, a Jewish reporter, said he was assaulted and hit in the head by the protesters at Brooklyn's Borough Park. He alleged fellow community member Heschy Tischler incited the crowd to "chase" him down the street. Kornbluh said "heroic police officers" and community members saved him from the attack.
Are Orthodox Jews Targeted?
While Orthodox Jewish leaders alleged Governor Cuomo of targeting them, New York City officials clarified that the restrictions were placed only to control the rising Covid-19 cases. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the rules did not target a specific community and that people had the right to protest but they should do so peacefully.
"We want to be respectful but I want to be very clear when the NYPD issues an instruction ... people must follow the instruction," Blasio said.
Roman Catholics, Too, Unhappy With Restrictions
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, said that churches "fervently object" the restrictions imposed on gathering despite not recording any outbreaks since reopening in July.
"It is outrageous that after incurring great expense to implement all the safety protocols, our parishes are being forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people in the red zone and 25 people in the orange zone," DiMarzio said on Tuesday night.