Charedi reporter at centre of a storm
There are two men at the centre of the febrile Brooklyn street demonstrations by strictly Orthodox Jews, protesting against a coronavirus crackdown by the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, and his mayoral colleague, Bill de Blasio.
One is homegrown local Harold “Heshy” Tischler, host of a populist pro-Trump radio programme, now facing a court case on charges of inciting a riot and unlawful imprisonment.
And the other, improbably, is a softly-spoken Orthodox Jew, Jacob Kornbluh, born and brought up in Stamford Hill, London and now a political reporter for the Jewish Insider website, a national Jewish publication rather than a Charedi, local, one.
Since the beginning of the pandemic — and Kornbluh himself fell victim to the disease early on — he has been one of the loudest voices calling for the strictly Orthodox community to observe the rules of masks and social distancing. He has lost both relatives and friends to the virus.
But last week matters turned ugly when a crowd of mainly young men and boys — apparently urged on by Tischler — turned on Kornbluh and began screaming “moiser” — “traitor” — in his face. Though there was no actual physical violence, Kornbluh, 39, requested and received a police escort to his home in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Boro Park, where he lives with his wife and five children.
He and his family now have to deal with intimidation on the street and on social media, directed at Kornbluh for apparently “siding” with the mayor and the governor, and for pressing charges against Heshy Tischler. “As a reporter, I never want to be the story”, says Kornbluh, “I always want to be the one presenting the accurate facts, the government guidelines and so on. Unfortunately there’s so much misinformation and miscommunication”. He is as critical of the mayor and governor for “failure to reach out to the community and educate about the virus”, as he is of the community for flouting the regulations.
Public service is central to Kornbluh’s family. His father, Isaac, ran for local council in Stamford Hill and was one of the founders of the area’s Hatzolah and Shomrim groupings, forming tight bonds with police and hospital authorities. Jacob, the fifth of seven siblings, told a Haaretz webinar this week that his memories of home life included his father “being almost never there” on Shabbat or even seder night, because of being on call for emergencies. “My father was always pretty vocal about his core mission, to save lives”, Kornbluh told the JC, “that’s how I grew up, and that’s how I feel”.To continue reading in theJC.com, click here.