Orthodox Jewish and other religious leaders stood up against Governor Andrew M. Cuomo over new coronavirus restrictions on schools, businesses and places of worship on Wednesday when protests broke out in Brooklyn overnight, causing chaos and the injury of at least one person.
“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today,” said four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers representing the areas affected by the closure in a letter posted online late Tuesday. “He has decided to strive for a scientifically and constitutionally questionable closure of our communities.”
Their frustration was reflected on the street, where videos that were rife on social media showed hundreds of Hasidic men, most without masks, gathering after midnight and setting fire to 13th Avenue in Borough Park. The crowd soon turned violent, and a mob was furious with at least one Hasidic man they believed was not loyal to the community.
“Traitor!” In one video, a man can be heard screaming in English while the crowd hits the man. He was identified by a relative as Berish Getz, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for her safety, and treated overnight at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.
The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new restrictions, announced by Mr Cuomo on Tuesday, are designed to combat worrying coronavirus outbreaks in the northern suburbs of Brooklyn, Queens and New York City, including several areas with large Orthodox populations.
Mr. Cuomo appeared to be specifically targeting Orthodox synagogues, which have become the sites of large gatherings of faithful who have banded together, many of whom are uncovered. The governor used photos of crowds of Orthodox Jews this week to justify the imposition of restrictions in certain areas.
The rules would shut down non-essential businesses and schools, and place severe restrictions on places of worship with attendance limited to 10 people in the hardest hit areas. In other parts of the city, participation would be limited to 25 people.
Religious leaders said they were not consulted before the governor announced the new rules, which were due to go into effect on Friday, the day before a major Jewish holiday.
But the anger wasn’t confined to the Orthodox Jewish community. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which has 1.5 million followers and 210 churches in Brooklyn and Queens, said the governor’s announcement surprised them. Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio condemned the new rules as “outrageous” in a statement Tuesday evening.
“We strongly oppose being asked to further reduce capacity as we have strictly adhered to the Covid-19 protocols and the security measures have worked,” he said. “The safety of parishioners is of paramount importance to the Diocese of Brooklyn, but the freedom of religion of our parishioners is unjustly attacked.”
“It is outrageous that, after high costs of implementing all security protocols, our communities are being forced to reduce capacity to a maximum of 10 people in the red zone and 25 people in the orange zone,” he added. “A capacity range of 10-25 people is disrespectful to Catholics and clergy who have all followed the rules.”
In a letter posted online on Tuesday, four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers – MP Simcha Eichenstein and Senator Simcha Felder, and city council members Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch – accused Mr Cuomo of lying to community leaders about the scope of his lockdown plan in a conference call earlier on Tuesday. They denounced it as “a double bait and switch”.
Lawmakers also criticized the governor for “irresponsible and derogatory” rhetoric, including using a photo from more than 10 years ago during a press conference earlier this week that gathered a Hasidic crowd for a funeral.
Mr Yeger spoke to protesters early Wednesday, according to an online video from Boro Park News, an Orthodox Jewish news organization.
“We are not being deprived of the right we have in America, like everyone else in America, to observe our religion,” said Yeger. “I don’t care who in the government thinks they can stop us. You are wrong. Let them try. “
Joining Mr. Yeger was Heshy Tischler, a local activist who disrupted a press conference in town about the rise in the coronavirus and who in recent days has deciphered the recent surge in cases as a joke. Later, when a police officer watched, Mr. Carpenter spoke to the crowd with a megaphone.
“You are my soldiers! We are at war! ” he said. “We will show them that our schools are open and we will respect our police officers!”