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New York leaders Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo cracked down on Jewish celebrations, sending NYPD officers to round them up as they danced in the streets.
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Hours after Cuomo announced the shutdown of non-essential businesses, mass gatherings, and additional limitations on religious institutions in select areas of the city state in virus hotspots, NYPD officers attempted to disperse a massive street celebration of Hassidic Jews in Crown Heights who continued dancing against NYPD orders.
At the intersection of Kingston Avenue and Montgomery Street, hundreds of Hasidic Brooklynites of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of Judaism, many of them unmasked, had gathered late Monday evening as part of a nightly celebration marking the second intermediate day of the weeklong Sukkot holiday.
Video from the event shows NYPD officers imploring the densely packed crowd to follow state law's intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "Please get onto the sidewalk," an officer pleads. "You will be allowed to dance on the sidewalk."
The group refused to comply and can be seen pushing into the row of cops, jumping in place, singing, and waving flags and signs depicting the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A handful of officers begin to shove the participants, but later appear to back away. Witnesses said the police left soon after and the event was allowed to continue.
A spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed that there were no arrests made at the scene. The department didn't provide further information about the enforcement effort, including whether any summonses were issued.
Most of the neighborhoods targeted by the restrictions are home to part of the city's Orthodox Jewish community. Cuomo warned that he would shut down synagogues, churches and other religious institutions, if compliance with social distancing rules doesn't improve.
Most Orthodox Jewish schools have been closed since last week in observance of Jewish holidays. Most synagogues have been adhering to social distancing guidelines with many tri-state area synagogues even splitting up congregants to smaller sizes in multiple locations to keep in compliance.
Tucker Carlson raged at Cuomo last night following his announcement for threatening to shut down religious gatherings, asking him: "Who do you think you are, God?"
The Governor has repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD for failing to enforce COVID restrictions. Cuomo also changed the mayor's plan to close non-essential businesses in nine ZIP codes, saying the state would create their own geographic boundaries. Crown Heights' 11213 ZIP code — which the location of the street celebration borders — is among 13 ZIP codes that Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed get a partial shutdown of "high-risk activities."
The ZIP code that includes Crown Heights is currently on the city's "watch list," meaning that infections are growing, but remain below the 3 percent threshold. Gyms, indoor pools, and indoor dining and bars would also be prohibited in "watch list" areas under the mayor's proposal.
Motti Seligson, director of media at Chabad, which typically hosts the Sukkot celebration, told the press that the annual event was cancelled this year because of the pandemic. He noted that Tuesday's event was unsanctioned, adding that "most people were taken aback by what was organized on that street corner."
Meanwhile in Borough Park, another primarily Jewish section of Brooklyn, hundreds of Jews came out, some masked and some not, not to celebrate the holiday but to protest the Governor's orders.
One large crowd at the corner of 50th Street and 15th avenue listened as community activist Heshy Tischler criticized Cuomo and de Blasio over the shut down order that shutters schools and limits places of worship to 10 people in certain COVID-19 hot spots.
“It’s called civil disobedience, we can fight back, do not allow them to torture you or scare you,” he said.
Much of Borough Park is subject to the most restrictive measures of the new lockdown which also shutters non-essential businesses. The level of restrictions, broken down into three color-coded categories, are guided by coronavirus diagnosis data.
The defiant crowd chanted “Jewish lives matter,” as they held their ground against two city sheriff’s deputies who responded.
Jewish lawmakers released a joint statement slamming Gov. Cuomo over the order. “We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today. He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities,” said the statement from State Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, Councilman Chaim Deutsch and Councilman Kalman Yeger.
“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.”
The governor even went so far as to use a picture from a funeral of a Rabbi in 2006 in Kiryas Joel as a “recent” large gathering in his power point presentation leading up to the order.
The Jewish officials continued “Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous. His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State.”
In Jewish tradition the Sukkot holiday is called “the time of happiness” and is typically filled with nightly music and festivals. Sunday, while Orthodox Jews were celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, and not using phones, computers or television to follow news, de Blasio announced he would move to close schools, pending Cuomo's approval.