Response to the Forward – Jews Not Being Blamed for Covid Spread and Non-Compliance Should Not be Defended

The Forward - News that Matters to American Jews


By: Julie D. Globus and a Number of Anonymous Contributors

This Opinion is a response to the piece written by Ari Feldman of The Forward entitled:  It’s there, it’s nonstop’: In Facebook groups in Hasidic areas, Jews blamed for virus spread, referred to as a News piece, which is partly reprinted below. Please note that since the original drafting of this Opinion, a piece came out by Steve Gold (mentioned below) in The Jewish Standard entitled Hate is also a virus – and it also killsWe add a reference to it because he does address some points we made below and to some extent we agree. To the extent we don’t, please continue reading.

While we make no bones about acknowledging there is an anti-Haredi sentiment in Rockland County, as well as Lakewood, New Jersey, Toms River, New Jersey, Orange County, New York, parts of Israel, parts of Belgium, England, Europe and the list goes on, we do not believe it is generalized anti-Semitism. Our thesis is derived from a parallel comparison to areas where there are flagrantly disrespectful churchgoers, one can see similar anti-religious sentiment. The major difference is that the Haredim, unlike most churchgoers have chosen a form of dress that shines light on their religion and practice and by doing so, shines light on any blemishes within the community. 

The general comparison between Haredim and churchgoers is a contextual discussion related to societal norms versus religious convention and should not be labeled anti-Semitism, for to do so, diminishes legitimate concerns of law abiding citizens everywhere, who themselves may have chosen to forego public observance in favor of safety.

We do not think that pieces like that written by Feldman, or the Rockland County face of the Haredim, Aron Wieder, or speeches of those like Michaeld D. Cohen, who is the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center are helpful to the cause. We do not think Cohen, who is quoted in Feldman’s article, is appropriately responding to concerns of secular Jews and non-Jews, nor do we think he is doing Jews anywhere any favors.

We think these very public figures, some of whom have significant influence, are inciting, antagonizing and embittering people, rather than helping to create peace. And, when the post-Covid-19 dust settles, any residual resentment, as we see it will rest squarely on the shoulders of those religious leaders who disregarded the concerns of a society outside of their religious observance and were then quick to label genuine concerns as anti-Semitism.

In the first few paragraphs of Feldman’s piece, Feldman cites what he refers to as anti-Semitic, a comment by a poster which had been liked by Rockland County Executive, Ed Day:

“I’m appalled after all that went on this week this community felt they had the right once again to put many human lives at risk,” read one. “Their defiance & lack of compassion for human life is outrageous.”

It should be noted that Ed Day has also called for a containment zone, something we do not believe is unwarranted. Why is that type of response to a blatant abuse of guidance to keep everyone safe anti-Semitic? Why are Feldman, Cohen and others not responding with a statement saying something like: 

You are right but keep in mind not everyone within the community is flouting civil practices and we are working with authorities to make certain that religious leaders are adhering to the rules.”

Feldman likens the “containment zone” to the yellow stars of Nazi Europe. That’s a stretch. In Montreal one Jewish group, the Tosh Community, asked police for help quarantining its community. The article was posted in the Montreal Gazette:

The Tosh Jewish community of Boisbriand asks for police to help quarantine its community

The community was placed under a 14-day quarantine by public health authorities on Sunday, said a spokesperson for the Laurentian health authority, the CISSSS des Laurentides, but is asking for help to ensure it is respected.

One hundred members of the community were tested for COVID-19: 40 results had been received by Sunday and more than 40 per cent were positive.

The community lives in relative isolation from the outside world and from other Hasidic communities in Montreal, but it does have links to Tosh communities in New York. New York is a hotspot for the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members would have travelled to New York to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim this month.

If one reviews the historical complexities of Haredim and their neighbors in Montreal, Tosh being but one, one will see that the level of disenchantment by non-Haredim has been kept at bay by an observant and insular community which is very respectful, worries both for its own and for those outsiders, and respects civil authority. Articles about flaunting restrictions in Montreal and much of Canada are sparse; and Canada’s ability to keep Covid-19 at bay may very well be reflecting an overall respect for civil authority. In New York, New Jersey, Virginia (church related), Florida (church related), not so much. 

The comment that Feldman used to illustrate his premise above could have applied to any church or any organization that chose to gather en-masse after social distancing rules were put into action. And people are making similar comments about churchgoers in other states who disregard secular authority. 

The New York Times wrote a critical piece about Gerald O. Glenn, the bishop of the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfied, Va. who defied social distancing and died of Covid-19. In the piece entitled Pastor Who Defied Social Distancing Dies After Contracting Covid-19, Church Says, the Times in tempered fashion makes it a point to say that the rules have not been followed and the result is tragic. That is what they should be saying. In fact, this is what Jewish leaders should be saying of any Haredi community or house of worship that refused to abide by social distancing guidelines.

The Times report states as follows:  

Bishop Glenn’s death came as church leaders from Pope Francis to local pastors grappled with the challenges of social distancing. Some church leaders have notably defied pleas from governors and public health officials to shutter houses of worship. In Florida, the pastor of a Pentecostal megachurch was arrested last month after holding services with hundreds of worshipers.

On March 17, Gov. Ralph S. Northam told Virginians to avoid nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people, in accordance with federal guidelines on social distancing.

During a March 22 sermon, Bishop Glenn preached to a few dozen worshipers at the church, video on the website of the television station WTVR showed. The sermon was posted on YouTube and later removed.

At the time, the bishop was quoted by local media outlets as saying that “I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus.” Local media reported that Bishop Glenn said that he would keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.”

Within the Church context, are those who are begging for stricter guidelines, for enforceable repercussions “anti-Church”? Are the Tosh who are begging for assistance within Montreal, anti-anything (to be likened to Nazis) or are they pro-health, pro-well being and pro-safety? And why are Jewish leaders not also begging the Rabbinical leaders, who are disregarding laws, to place health and safety above observance, to follow the Talmudic principles of Pikuach Nefesh. Steve Gold in his piece listed above, only briefly addresses the issue of Haredi non-compliance. But, it is not something that should be so easily dismissed.

Contrary to the responses to the behavior of some of the Haredi community, which is to label any criticism like being “appalled” anti-Semitism, church leaders and pastors in Florida and Virginia have begged for stricter and enforceable guidelines. The Forward, Mr. Cohen, Steve Gold and others should be doing the same. By being social and religious apologists, they are trying to legitimize dangerous behavior that is leading to the death of far too many Haredim and many of their neighbors. And in so doing, they are disregarding the concerns of others, legitimate fears. That is the true shanda.

The above comment by the poster in Feldman’s article reflects a fear of an outcome which is, undeniably and tragically coming to fruition, namely that observant Jews are dying in significantly higher numbers than others within Rockland and other similar counties where the rules within those counties were or continue to be defied. The numbers speak for themselves. Currently one in forty one  (1 in 41) people in Rockland County has Covid-19 and these are only the reported numbers. There is no coincidence. And people are rightfully uncomfortable.

The comment cited by Feldman could have been applied to any church, mosque, or other gathering. Feldman pulled anti-Semitism out of the magic hat because it’s easy to play a victim card and levy accusations on everyone else for a justified resentment of behavior that puts everyone in jeopardy. Please be reminded that Covid-19 is killing healthcare workers, infecting their families, destroying the lives of police officers and other enforcement officials. In disrespecting social constructions, however small the group, they are disenfranchising a larger group and the repercussions are visibly exponential.

And we believe that to ignore the scope of religious adherence over the safety of one’s neighbors is a tragedy in any context. In Rockland County, it just happens to be within a largely Haredi Community. In Virginia, it is the churchgoing community. In Florida, it was the Spring Break beach goers and is now the churchgoing community. There is no distinction and anti-Semitism should not be the ace-in-the sleeve to be used at will.

Feldman then quotes Steve Gold, the co-president of the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County:

“Now they’re just talking on social media,” said Steve Gold, the co-president of the Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County. “But once the virus is over, you’re going to see a huge uptick — I hope I’m wrong — in anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Orthodox.”

Gold said he spoke to Day, the county executive, last week about the comments on his own Facebook page and others, and told him he should use the platform “to ask people to stop the hate, or to stop the blame.”

Why are none of those people, Feldman, Cohen,Gold and others quoted in Feldman’s articles, who are so quick to label commenters’ posts on social media as anti-Semitic, so reluctant to condemn the behavior of members of the greater Jewish community who have chosen to disregard rules and directives? If it’s a small group, say so. But don’t diminish the concerns of others and try and sweep it under a carpet.

Small group or not, the behavior is indefensible in any context.

To reiterate, as Jews and as spokespeople for the greater Jewish community, we cannot be sitting in glass houses and tossing stones at everyone else. Whilst some small group of our Jewish brethren continue to congregate, and then blame the rest of the county for its anger and hostility, Covid-19 knows no religious boundaries. It does not distinguish between Jew and gentile. There is no Mezzuzah that is going to protect those within a home from Covid-19 if they are continuing to congregate. And to label someone who feels “appalled” as having stated something anti-semitic is wrong. It devalues the feelings and concerns of a greater Rockland County, NY, is dehumanizing to the secular and non-Jews in the County, many of whom are legitimately frightened to get sick. It is wholly disrespectful to the healthcare workers who have to deal with the fall-out of the irresponsible leaders and risk their lives doing it.

Those who continue to hold minyanim, church services, refuse civil authority and completely disrespect both the laws and their civil government should be condemned for it regardless of religious affiliation, sexual preference, color or race.

We make no excuses for entirely anti-Semitic comments, and there are an abundance of those. They should be removed from the pages if they are violent or abusive. Threats should be addressed with care and caution and appropriate harsh responses. Anti-Semites, like White Nationalists, Xenophobics, anti-LGBTQ homophobes will always exist; and one can only try to teach tolerance through civilized discourse. An antagonistic piece like Feldman’s, where he pits Jew against non-Jew only raises the specter of hate and creates anti-Semitism where none may have existed beforehand; or fuels an increase in hatred, where it might otherwise have been carefully de-oxygenated.

In our opinion, it is about time that papers like The Forward, that organizations like Jewish Federation of New York and New Jersey, the American Jewish Congress, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Agudath Yisroel and so many others not pretend that the Haredim, however small a group, who are evading laws are not antagonizing. The Covid-19 numbers speak for themselves and it is incumbent upon these organizations to take responsibility and not deflect the problem. It behooves us not to turn the legitimate fears and concerns of secular Jews and non-Jews into a Jew versus non-Jew battle, which is in our opinion a flagrant misrepresentation of what is happening.

We posit that if these organizations and the public faces of Jewish discourse do not start trying to empathize with the concerns of others, they themselves will be responsible for the destruction of Haredi/Jewish/Non-Jewish relations and any meltdown that occurs. If people like those quoted in Ari Feldman’s article do not find a way to, on the one hand accept accountability for unacceptable and indefensible religious practices that have continued to balk at social distancing and non-congregation rules, and on the other had be sympathetic to scathing concerns, they will only fan the fires of hatred.

As such, with all due respect, Steve Gold’s prophesy will have been self-fulfilled.


The Forward

‘It’s there, it’s nonstop’: In Facebook groups in Hasidic areas, Jews blamed for virus spread

On the first day of Passover, a group of police officers found a small synagogue in the Hasidic hub of Monsey, in Rockland County, N.Y., where about 50 men had gathered to pray. They broke up the service, issuing eight summonses.

When Ed Day, Rockland’s county executive since 2014, posted about the incident on Facebook, he got nearly 100 comments. Most were messages of thanks for enforcing social-distancing rules. Several contained derogatory references to Orthodox Jews that some saw as anti-Semitic.

“I’m appalled after all that went on this week this community felt they had the right once again to put many human lives at risk,” read one. “Their defiance & lack of compassion for human life is outrageous.”

Day’s page “liked” the comment, fueling concerns among Orthodox Jews and people who monitor online anti-Semitism that he is not taking the rhetoric in such comments seriously.

The page, where Day often responds directly to both laudatory and critical comments, and the county executive himself, have become a major flashpoint for the swirling controversy around coronavirus and Orthodox communities like those in Rockland County, a place where tension between Hasidic residents and the secular world have played out for years.

Day’s is one of several Rockland Facebook pages that have seen hateful comments that some Jewish leaders worry could lead to anti-Semitic incidents or violence once social distancing orders are lifted.

Last week, after Day called for imposing a temporary containment zone on Monsey and some surrounding areas that are heavily Hasidic, some commenters called for physical barricading of those neighborhoods and suggested sewing “C” patches on those infected with the virus — shocking parallels to the ghettoes and yellow-stars mandated for Jews during the Holocaust.

To continue reading in The Forward, click here.

3 thoughts on “Response to the Forward – Jews Not Being Blamed for Covid Spread and Non-Compliance Should Not be Defended

  1. “You cannot have a peeing section in the swimming pool without contaminating all of the water.”
    I don’t know if that qualifies as a Freudian slip but that’s pretty funny.


  2. It seems fair to say that we’ve reached a point where one must differentiate between opprobrium directed at Haredim for their specific activities in the civic sphere – their refusal to educate and vaccinate their children properly, their welfare fraud, their aggressive take-over tactics, their refusal to socially distance – and antisemitism. It’s not all Jews, it’s these particular Jews who are intensely disliked. Haredim are far removed and almost completely distinct from and (mostly) immiscible with more moderate Jews. However in the minds of at least some folks a Jew is a Jew is a Jew and we’re all responsible Haredi transgressions.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that these same Haredim consider less-observant Jews scarcely to be Jews at all. So the angry neighbors of Haredim lump us all together, while those triggering that response look down on the rest of us as untermenschen. I’m glad there are very few Haredim here in Massachusetts, relatively speaking.


    • Thank you for your comments. Due in part to the lawsuit against the main blogger, we have had the opportunity to truly befriend in really meaningful ways, a number of Haredim, lovely people. They, have helped provide some perspective. They, too, frown at the non-compliance by those who may dress alike but who are altogether different. The great problem in Rockland County, New York, or perhaps there are a few, is that Conservative organizations receive significant donations from ultra-Orthodox, Haredi donors. They therefore have to temper what they say. On the one hand, many Haredim do not even view Conservative Jews as Jews, but when it comes to money, we are all Jews. Next, the “Apologists” for lack of a gentler term, will defend a Jew at all costs before criticizing one of their own, even as those they defend do not consider them Jewish. It creates something of a bizarre Schadenfreude, reflected on social media. OJPAC threw the numbers of sick in Rockland County up on Twitter like a badge of honor today. They posited that if more people are getting sick in non-Jewish or secular communities, it cannot have anything to do with those within their umbrella who balked at the laws. That’s a twisted analogy. Of course those who are secular and non-Jewish are going to get sick. You cannot have a peeing section in the swimming pool without contaminating all of the water. OJPAC has proven the point that Covid-19 is dangerous and failure to comply with the laws puts everyone at risk. They have proven that those within their community who flouted the laws did not put everyone else at risk. It doesn’t matter if someone is Jewish or not. But to make their own odd, if not mathematically impossible statement, they had to revel in the death rate in secular and non-Jewish communities, the very definition of schadenfreude. The point here is that not all Haredim are created equal, just like not all Jews should be viewed through the lens of the Haredim. But, knowing that this is the way the world sees this, someone in a position of power, should come out and say, “Enough. Stop Congregating. Stop giant funeral processions. Stop basement Minyanim.” To say this these things are not still happening is simply untrue. But, no one will admit it. And instead, any comments are viewed as anti-Semitic.


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