Mayor de Blasio went to Williamsburg Tuesday evening to help break up a large funeral for a Hasidic Jewish rabbi after mourners gathered shoulder to shoulder in violation of social-distancing guidelines.
The crowd had gathered at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Rutledge Street for a funeral honoring Rabbi Chaim Mertz. Photos showed throngs of funeralgoers — some in masks, some not — crowded in the streets and on the sidewalks. According to the Daily News, as many as 2,500 gathered for the funeral of the 73-year-old rabbi, who died of COVID-19. Gatherings of all sizes have been banned across the state.
“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio tweeted after the funeral was broken up. “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.”
In another tweet, de Blasio warned “the Jewish community, and all communities,” that large gatherings in violation of social-distancing orders will be met with police action. Though the NYPD was present at the funeral Tuesday, it said there were no summonses handed out or arrests made.
The mayor’s attempt to break up the funeral in person, and his warning to Jews, drew immediate criticism. City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, an Orthodox Jew, tweeted that de Blasio’s warning “has to be a joke.” In another tweet, he wrote: “Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt echoed the sentiment. “There are 1mil+ Jewish people in #NYC,” Greenblatt tweeted. “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.”
In a statement, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said he is recommending a formal censure of De Blasio.
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. 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.
The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council pointed out that earlier Wednesday large groups of people gathered to watch Blue Angels and Thunderbirds fly over NYC to honor frontline health-care workers, which did not draw the same negative attention as the funeral.
“There is one wrong here,” the group wrote in another tweet, citing “unequal focus by some in media,” de Blasio, and the NYPD “on Jews as a group.”
De Blasio addressed the controversy over his actions at his Wednesday morning press briefing. He said the funeral was “by far the largest gathering in any community of New York City” that he’s seen since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. He added: “Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger. They were putting our police officers in danger,” he said.
He also offered a half-apology: “If in my emotion I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that, that was not my intention. But I also want to be clear, I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying I want to deal with it very, very aggressively.”