Several Funerals Later, Letters of Support and an Analysis of New York’s Power Holders
OPINION – LostMessiah 5.1.20 [updated 5:31pm][update 8:38pm previous version referred to Shesh Besh as Chess when Chess is actually “Shach” in Hebrew].
Over the last few days we have written three separate opinions about the “Massive” funeral that took place on the streets of Williamsburg, on April 28, 2020, the irresponsibility of the event, the flagrant defiance of social distancing and, well… the potential that the whole event was pre-approved by the Mayor’s office. Like the counting of the Omer, we suspect that in about 12 days there will be a significant increase of Covid-19 illnesses in New York. They likely will go unreported lest the truth be told that the attending members of the community have, indeed, helped transfer the virus from person to person.
Since that time there has been a smaller funeral in Monsey (not yet in the news but we have video of that funeral), albeit better about the social distancing, and another much larger funeral in Borough Park, social distancing be damned. An article in The Yeshivah World from April 30, 2020, tells that story, videos and all: AGAIN: Levaya In Boro Park Turns Chaotic With NYPD Response [VIDEOS]
There is no excuse for this absolute defiance of religiously observant people. The larger New York and worldwide demographic have the right to be angry. There is blame to be shouldered; and a community that allows, if not encourages, large ritualistic events should receive its fair share of the condemnation, whatever the religion.
We find ourselves wondering at what point the community that continues to defy the entire notion of social distancing will decide that far too many are dying and even more are being put at risk for each widely attended funeral, wedding, bris, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and the list goes on. The irony of putting people in danger at a funeral for someone who died of the very disease we are trying to stop is not lost on us and should not be so easily dismissed by religious fervency. We view this as a bastardization of a beautiful religion, ignoring the spirit in favor of the letter, something that should be disavowed by all. Continue reading
The Three Accounts of the 2500 Guest Funeral in Williamsburg and The Power-Holders in New York
OPINION – LostMessiah 4.30.20
[updated 5.1.20 5:32 pm, an earlier version claimed the Williamsburg funeral took place on April 27, 2020]
There are conflicting stories about the massive funeral that was held in Williamsburg April 28, 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic. In one version of events, unbeknownst to the Mayor’s office a Haredi group held a massive funeral, failed to social distance, attended by thousands and utterly lawless. Upon hearing of it, Mayor de Blasio lost his mind with anger and came to the rescue. He scattered the people, broke up the funeral and then, in a scathing set of Twitter posts, admonished the group that held the funeral, while also, albeit inadvertently, painting all Jews as the villains. We were able to accept that last point because, well… the whole soiree was a major mess that put thousands of people at risk of catching Covid-19.
The second version of events is a bit different. In this portrait of NY, Mayor de Blasio had pre-approved the funeral. He had even sent New York Police Department members to the site to hand out masks, keep order and prevent the event from moving out of designated areas. How is that possible, you ask? We will get this that. In this version, almost more believable (and infuriating) than the first, Mayor de Blasio is complicit in putting people at risk and exposing thousands of New Yorkers to Covid-19. In this scenario, de Blasio, realized that this funeral was no small affair (as he was allegedly promised), but comprised of thousands of Haredim (who were not only locals but who had been bused in). The mourners were not social-distancing, but rather were standing largely unmasked and shoulder-to-shoulder to mourn this Blessed Rabbi. So, Mayor de Blasio angrily raced to the scene of lawlessness and assisted in dispersing the people, whom he had approved to be there.
In contrast to our unlikely hero in the first version of events, in the second one, de Blasio’s angry Tweets are not that of a frustrated mayor responding to a lawless community, but rather a willing accomplice who made a choice to scapegoat anyone and everyone to save his own skin. In Prisoner’s Dilemma terms, this second scenario characterizes Mayor de Blasio as the prisoner who turns against the other two, a woefully inadequate response when thousands of New Yorkers’ lives are now in newly constructed Covid-19 jeopardy.
Did Mayor de Blasio First Coordinate and then Castigate a Funeral Procession (his Police Department Helped Organize)? If so, What Does that Say About the State of Affairs in New York
This is a follow-up to our last piece entitled:
The following is a commentary based upon new information that we have obtained through the day.
We were hopeful that finally Mayor Bill de Blasio had put his foot down to the violations of social mandates by a small but not insignificant community. The NYPD has repeatedly had to break up funeral gatherings and other social soirees in religious communities in New York. Each such event runs the risk of infecting thousands of New Yorkers (and New Jerseyites) with Covid-19; but, to the extent de Blasio could look the other way, de Blasio has done just that. Time and time again, he has avoided controversy while still juggling political expediency.
But, to help organize a massive funeral in a pandemic? Really?
De Blasio’s various campaigns have been well funded by members of the religious community (and their attorneys and media consultants), and not just the Jewish community. His public records of campaign finances are a veritable whose who of influential people and activists and those that represent him. Members of the funeral-hosting Haredi community have gotten special treatment when it comes to real estate deals. Nursing homes are largely unregulated, whether that has anything to do with de Blasio and his office or not is anyone’s guess in bedlam, oops, Gotham. And the Shomrim are largely funded by NYS taxpayer dollars in one form or another.
How many communities get their own assisted police and ambulance forces, sometimes better equipped than those that are by New York’s public system? We don’t know nor do we judge. We stand by our position, however, that the Shomrim’s days should be numbered in favor of a more unified police force in New York. But these are the ways of politics and de Blasio has the financial remains of a Presidential bid to account for, or not.
So, yesterday’s utter castigation of the attendees to a massive funeral procession felt oddly like de Blasio was finally standing up for all Jews and all residents of the City of New York (and New Jersey). There are too few degrees of separation in a City so packed with people. In a Borough that has nearly the largest number of sick to healthy people on the various Covid-Scales, to have a safe giant funeral is impossible. Mayor de Blasio’s march to the scene of the funeral to help disperse the crowd felt somewhat heroic (albeit admittedly naive).
The mere mortals of this world, Jewish or otherwise, have had to bury our dead largely alone or with the help of online media portals. A Rabbi’s funeral, despite broad accounts of its importance in Jewish observance, still cannot undo the mandates of Pikuach Nefesh as it applies to the lack of safety in numbers with Covid-19 so easily transmitted. But we suppose a belief in Pikuach Nefesh presupposes a belief in the underlying science.
We accepted if not celebrated de Blasio’s response to the massive funeral procession as a measured response to frustration with a community that has violated the social distancing laws to the detriment of all New Yorkers. We thought that finally the camel’s back had broken. The religious community, small as it may be or not, that has thumbed its nose to social distancing (and the science behind it) has raised the ire of Jews and non Jews everywhere. So finally, de Blasio did it! He yelled! He Tweeted! He stood up and said, “Enough.” And in so doing he was unsurprisingly called an anti-Semite.
Of course, waiving that flag in the Covid-19 environment is a measured response (sarcasm intended).
But then the bubble burst. “Drach!” Gone. Mayor de Blasio’s office, we are told, helped to organize the very funeral procession he then needed to disperse and openly excoriate. What was that? He was not looking out for regular New Yorkers? Apparently not. He was doing damage control; and if that meant pinning blame on a large swath of New York, all Jews, then let the rip cord fly.
And, that is a disappointment.
If Mayor de Blasio used a broad stroke to include all Jews in his criticism of the Haredi community that violated social distancing, out of frustration for an event the Haredim held that places all New Yorkers at risk, so-be-it. If they did not like the heat, they should not have piled 2500 deep into the Williamsburg kitchen.
But if Mayor de Blasio first approved that gathering and then used the Jews as a scapegoat to put out what otherwise might have been a media firestorm, he is no better than the worst of the politicians there are out there. And if that last point is true, we in our previous criticism owe our apologies to the organizers of the event.
If Mayor de Blasio’s office approved the funeral, helped to keep it organized, and then misread the magnitude, the community that hosted the funeral with approvals cannot be held to account for the fallout.
That responsibility rests squarely on de Blasio’s shoulders.
If that latter point is true and if people get sick in two weeks from yesterday, any blood will, if he approved the event, be on de Blasio’s shoulders, not the shoulders of the organizers of the event.
Mayor Bill de Blasio personally helped disperse a crowded Hasidic funeral in Williamsburg on Tuesday night, sending thousands of mourners scattering on Bedford Avenue before issuing a stern warning on Twitter to “the Jewish community, and all communities.”
“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite [sic]: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio wrote. “What I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.”
Twelve summonses were issued to those violating social distancing restrictions, according to Police Commissioner Dermott Shea. There were no arrests. “We cannot have what we had last night,” Shea told reporters on Wednesday. “We will not tolerate it.”
But according to Hasidic community leaders, the police department actually approved and helped coordinate the procession, which was held for local rabbi Chaim Mertz. Hours before the intervention, the NYPD’s Community Affairs Unit erected barricades in the area and worked with Shomrim, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood patrol group, to ensure the funeral could take place.
“We had an understanding with the police department that the Shomrim patrol would have 50 members and make sure everyone is wearing masks,” Rabbi Abe Friedman, a Williamsburg community leader, told Gothamist. “We can’t cancel a funeral of a very prominent rabbi, it’s not realistic.”
“It was supposed to be a very organized, safe, very short final goodbye,” he added. “Unfortunately, some people overacted and saw tons of people on the street and started dispersing the crowd and that caused a very big issue.”
Since the pandemic began, the NYPD has repeatedly broken up well-attended funeral gatherings in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, which have seen some of the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths. A police spokesperson would not say why the funeral was allowed to take place, or how the department decides to enforce social distancing laws.
To continue reading in the Gothamist, click here.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday that large gatherings like an Orthodox funeral held in Brooklyn Tuesday night were endangering his police officers — as the mayor claimed he has a “long, deep relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community.”
Shea, who said a paltry 12 summonses were issued, also pushed back against criticism that other groups were holding similar gatherings.
“There was two funerals last weekend for members of the NYPD, we would normally have probably tens of thousands of people at that funeral, we had a handful,” Shea said of scaled-down police officer funerals.
“People have to be accountable for their own actions, regardless of what neighborhood, ethnicity, where they come from, we cannot have what we had last night. We will not tolerate it.”
To continue reading, click here.
The NYPD was warned that the funeral of a prominent Brooklyn rabbi would draw a “big crowd” and sent dozens of cops with barricades and light towers — despite a ban on mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Post has learned.
But the situation in Williamsburg got out of hand when mourners surged toward the synagogue because a plan to relay the service over loudspeakers was unexpectedly canceled, a longtime liaison between the Hasidic Satmar community and the NYPD said Wednesday.
Moses Weiser said he “personally spoke” with NYPD Capt. Mark Vazquez before Tuesday’s funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who reportedly died of COVID-19.
“I asked him to use his resources however he wants to put this together, and he basically told us that we should follow his instructions,” Weiser said.
“We knew there was going to be a big crowd, especially now with no schools open, no yeshivas open — everyone wants to pay their respects to such a man.”
Weiser said Mertz’s synagogue, Tolas Yakov Bais Hamedrash, “originally wanted to have just family” outside “and we would set up speakers down the street a couple of blocks so that people could spread out and listen.”
“But an order came from somewhere to cancel the speakers, I’m not sure where the order came from, and so people started gathering close to see what was going on and to hear,” he said.
To continue reading, click here.
Please post this opinion piece.
OJPAC slams Orange County Community Preservation Act: Taking the Anti-Semitism Moniker Too Far in Regards to Environmental Protection/Preservation!
In February 2020, I came across an article in an Orange County, NJ newspaper, The Record Online titled “Orthodox Jewish group slams assembly bill aimed at land preservation”. Many regions like Orange County (and Central and Southern NJ as well) are seeing overdevelopment, diminishing open space, and reduction in agricultural lands. This is lowering the quality of life as well as the character of their towns. By preserving open space and farmland, the beauty of the land and opportunities for a strong recreation and park systems can be possible. This is for current and future generations to enjoy. I do not know how any municipal or county government would develop a land conservation program to discriminate and prevent the growth of any community into that area!
However in their usual style when they do not get what they want, another Orthodox Jewish advocacy group is claiming that this bill is discriminating against the growth of their community in Orange County where there is anti-Hasidic sentiment. In the article, Yossi Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council says the proposed law “targets Jews” and a tweet posted by OJPAC stated “The bill is a direct result of local agitation in Orange County against Hasidim who buy properties”. I rolled my eyes and thought, “there they go again!”
I cannot get over how the Orthodox leadership and Orthodox Jewish advocacy groups could care less about the long term environmental consequence in demanding their right to have uncontrolled high density housing. Do they not realize that natural resources, which include land and water, are limited and their supply will eventually dry out? What about the quality of life for OJ people who live in urban-like “shtetls “such as Lakewood, Kiryas Joel, Monsey? I am sure these individuals and their families feel suffocated in these enclaves though the majority will not say anything for fear of retribution. One can see Orthodox Jews in huge numbers frequent parks and beaches all over the Jersey Shore. They most likely need to get away from the nightmare that is Lakewood (concrete, traffic, no space) and breathe! And yet their leaders want to minimize open spaces and force compliance upon non-Orthodox and non-Jews in the process.
It was extremely disrespectful, unreasonable and inappropriate to label this bill as “anti-Hasidic growth”. These municipalities and counties are looking at the long term quality of life for ALL people to enjoy the beauty of nature by having open space and a robust parks and recreating system. My feedback to Mr. Gestetner and OJPAC: in this case you have taken labeling land preservation too far by calling it “anti-Hasidic growth”.
All of us, including your community, have the right to enjoy nature. There is nothing “anti-Semitic” about that!
REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR, Highlights our own…
Corpses left in the hallway of a nursing home in East New York. A whopping 55 deaths at another facility in Cobble Hill. Dozens of fatalities at comparable locations in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
The gruesome events have produced a spate of alarm across the city, which during the pandemic has seen over 2,100 deaths in nursing homes from COVID-19. Across the state, the total number has surpassed 3,500.
Gov. Cuomo has raked in dozens of five-figure donations from nursing home executives and their lobbyists.
Garnering much less attention was relevant legislation included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s austerity budget that the legislature approved earlier this month. “Tucked inside the budget bill,” as the Wall Street Journal noted, was liability protection for both hospitals and nursing homes during the pandemic.
This means that both entities are operating with immunity from civil lawsuits and most criminal penalties during the crisis. While this protection may make sense for besieged hospitals, why it applies to nursing homes merits attention.
The Greater New York Hospital Association, which includes nursing homes, took credit for writing the legislation. Amid the governor’s 2018 reelection campaign, that group contributed $1.15 million to the state Democratic Committee’s “housekeeping” account, which Cuomo controls.
During his three runs for governor, Cuomo also raked in dozens of five-figure donations directly from nursing home executives and their lobbyists. Many of the worst-rated facilities in the state have maintained a quite friendly relationship with Cuomo.
Cuomo originally issued an executive order bestowing immunity on hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities on March 23. The legislation passed with the budget extends that protection through the duration of the crisis — and covers retroactively to March 7, the day Cuomo declared a state of emergency.
Many proponents of the liability protection view it as a dramatic, but necessary step given the scope of the current crisis. “In normal circumstances, it would be unthinkable to confer immunity in this fashion,” New York State Bar Association president Henry Greenberg told the Albany Times-Union.
Most expressions of support for the measure highlight a legitimate need to protect frontline healthcare providers from malpractice lawsuits. The problem is that administrators at hospitals and nursing homes can now make life-or-death decisions without fear of repercussions.
Brooklyn attorney John O’Hara, who won a high-profile wrongful death suit in 2015 against a now-shuttered Prospect Park nursing home, says that legal action helps create accountability. “We need to know about staffing issues, hiring practices and safety procedures during the crisis,” says O’Hara. “Lawsuits are one of the best methods of finding out what really happened — and preventing future disasters.”
As Newsday reported, families who have lost loved ones at Long Island nursing homes are indeed sounding the alarm regarding staffing and safety issues. “Where were the extra supplies? The extra staff?” asked one grieving woman. “They left [dying people] there like they didn’t matter.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo responded to questions about the state’s directive that nursing homes must re-accept residents diagnosed with the COVID-19, but who are sent back from the hospital.
Cuomo stressed that the nursing homes are privately owned and that the state’s role is to regulate them (via the Department of Health). If facilities commit serious violations, he said, “they can lose their license.”
Given that the Department of Health answers to the governor, that seems like a minimal risk for the nursing home operators. Amid the crisis, they will thus proceed with immunity.
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(NEW YORK) — As residents at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, began dying in late February from a coronavirus outbreak that would eventually take 43 lives, there was little sign of trouble at the Cobble Hill Health Center, a 360-bed facility in an upscale section of Brooklyn.
Its Facebook page posted a cheerful story encouraging relatives to quiz their aging loved ones about their lives, and photos of smiling third graders at a nearby school making flower arrangements for residents.
That quickly changed. By the middle of March, the CEO began sending increasingly alarmed emails about banning visitors, screening staff, confining residents, wiping down all surfaces, and having all-hands-on-deck meetings to prepare everyone for the coming coronavirus “freight train.”
“I’ll be darned if I’m not going to do everything in my power to protect them,” Donny Tuchman wrote before things got worse. More than 100 staffers, nearly a third of the workforce, went out sick. Those left began wearing garbage bags because of a shortage of protective gear. Not a single resident has been able to get tested for the virus to this day.