(April 29, 2020 / JNS) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized on Wednesday for his response to a large gathering for a Jewish funeral that took place the night before in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., where a large Satmar community resides. He did, however, defend his “tough love” stance on enforcing social-distancing orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of Orthodox Jews gathered in the streets near the intersection of Rutledge Street and Bedford Avenue to pay their respects for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died after contracting COVID-19. Photos from the funeral show that while most of those in attendance—children and adults alike—wore face masks, the majority of them did not wear gloves, and the crowd by far exceeded 50 people, which is in violation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s current order on social gatherings.
The New York Post reported that “several NYPD precincts and their community affairs teams helped organize and control the event—setting up five blocks of barricades in advance to help with crowd control.” Photos from the gathering show people crammed together on the sidewalks and not standing the recommended six feet apart.
“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite (sic): a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter. “When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the coronavirus,” he said.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: The time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
On Twitter, he acknowledged that “we have lost so many these last two months + I understand the instinct to gather to mourn,” he added. “But large gatherings will only lead to more deaths + more families in mourning. We will not allow this. I have instructed the NYPD to have one standard for this whole city: zero tolerance.”
New York has been the hardest-hit city in the United States with 165,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 13,000 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor affirms that he ‘won’t tolerate anti-Semitism’
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized de Blasio’s comments, writing on Twitter, “There are 1mil+ Jewish people in #NYC. The few who don’t social distance should be called out—but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews. This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.”
The mayor said during a press briefing on Wednesday that he spoke out of “frustration” and “anger” after witnessing the crowd himself, and added that he has “a lot of love” for the Jewish community.
He added that regarding large gatherings, “if I see it in any other community, I’ll call that out equally.”
He added that Tuesday-night’s funeral was the largest group he had seen or heard anywhere during the weeks-long pandemic. He also reiterated that while he will not tolerate such incidents, he “won’t tolerate anti-Semitism” either.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement on Wednesday that he is recommending censure against de Blasio for his comments on Tuesday evening.
“Last night, the mayor painted the Jewish community as lawbreakers and unconcerned about the city’s public health. I agree with the mayor that social distancing is vitally important—and last night’s gathering was not appropriate,” he said. “But to blame the entire Jewish community is the type of stereotyping that is dangerous and unacceptable at any time, and particularly pernicious while the world is gripped in fear and the worst among us are looking for scapegoats.”
City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie told The Post: “There was no event permit issued for this gathering.”
De Blasio and New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged on Wednesday that police were, in fact, informed by the Satmar community of the rabbi’s death and notified that a funeral would be taking place. Shea said officers were sent to the scene in case it got out of control, so as to be able to disperse the crowd quickly.
The NYPD did issue 12 summonses.
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