Outraged by new lockdown measures, Orthodox Jews in Borough Park burned masks, beat a dissenting member of the community, and chased a journalist from the scene late on Tuesday evening. The violence unfolded as members of the community celebrated Sukkot, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. Hours earlier, Governor Andrew Cuomo had announced restrictions on public gatherings, schools, and retail shopping as cases of COVID-19 tick upward in some areas of Brooklyn.
Protesters attacked 34-year-old Berish Getz, who is himself Orthodox, after he was spotted filming the demonstration. Getz is an advocate for mask-wearing and social-distancing measures, according to The City. Demonstrators beat him so badly that he had to be taken to a nearby hospital.
Getz’s brother, Mordy, told The City on Wednesday that he’s since regained consciousness and is undergoing tests. But on Twitter, he expressed fears that powerful members of the community would try to shut down any investigation into the assault on his brother.
The incident adds new tension to an already-fraught situation. Orthodox communities have expressed that they feel unfairly blamed for a recent increase in positive cases of COVID-19, and cite inadequacies in the city’s outreach as contributing factors to local noncompliance with mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines. Cuomo’s new lockdown measures, which build on an initial proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio, were announced during Sukkot, a weeklong celebration of the harvest that follows the highest holidays on the Jewish calendar. Public gatherings are not only common, but key to certain religious observances.
City Councilman Kalman Yeger, who represents Borough Park, is visible in videos from the protest. “We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, to observe our religion,” he told the crowd. “I don’t care who in government thinks that they can stop us. They are wrong.” In a Wednesday morning tweet, the councilmember condemned the assault on Getz. But the videos show him with Heshy Tischler, a local radio host and City Council candidate who recently heckled the head of NYC Health + Hospitals at a community event. (Yeger, New York State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, and State Senator Simcha Felder previously teamed up with Tischler to cut off the chains at a closed local playground.) Tischler can be heard telling protesters that they are his “soldiers,” and that they are “at war.” Another video from Tuesday’s protest appears to show Tischler using racist language to refer to Chirlane McCray, de Blasio’s wife.
On Wednesday, Tischler filmed a video in which he attacked a Jewish journalist who covered the protest and the assault on Getz:
The city’s outreach plan does have real flaws. Community advocates had previously complained about inadequate reserves of Yiddish-speaking contact tracers. De Blasio announced his own lockdown measures on Sunday, a day “when Orthodox Jews do not use cell phones or computers” as part of Sukkot observances, the JTA noted. Agudath Israel, which JTA describes as an organization that represents Haredi communities around the world, has threatened legal action over the new lockdown measures.