New York Chasidim under fire for not cancelling large events during coronavirus outbreak

Brooklyn Chasidim registered over 100 positive cases of coronavirus on Tuesday alone



New York’s Chasidic communities have been accused of not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously enough, with firefighters breaking up packed events across the city. 

The state has banned public gatherings with more than 50 attendees, but many yeshivot, schools and synagogues remained open on Wednesday and wedding celebrations continued. 

But Chasidic leaders who tried to raise awareness about the risks of not following health guidelines have described receiving abuse from other members of the community.

On Tuesday, it was confirmed that over 100 people had tested positive for coronavirus at a medical facility that serves Brooklyn’s Chasidic areas of Borough Park and Williamsburg. 

It followed the creation of health clinic outposts to test the neighbourhoods during the weekend. 

In Williamsburg, around 200 people huddled into a tight-space to celebrate a wedding before the New York Fire Department shut down the celebration. 

On Sunday, at least three large Chasidic weddings took place across Brooklyn, including one of a prominent Satmar figure. 

Videos also surfaced showing police shutting down a yeshiva in New Jersey, causing an outcry both outside and within the Jewish community. 

Rabbi Abe Friedman, a Brooklyn Chasidic figure, called on his Jewish neighbours to “no longer ignore the precautions the state and the city have implemented. We must take this serious.” 

He told Gothamist that the spike in confirmed cases had encouraged many in the community to self-isolate and practice social distancing. 

Mordy Gertz, a Chasidic activist with underlying health conditions who is self-quarantining with suspected coronavirus, appealed in a video for fellow Chasidim to stay home. 

He said in the video posted on Wednesday that he had seen “many weddings with thousands of people dancing together without any social distancing. Many of these weddings had people with coronavirus, confirmed later, dancing there.” 

The activist accused “some young people” and “uninformed people” of “not heeding the advice of medical experts and governmental agencies,” but of “listening to extremist leaders who are horrendously misguided.” 

David Greenfield, the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, told Jewish Insider that he had been warning of the risks of coronavirus for days.

“These are hard communities to break through to,” he said, “I am genuinely concerned because these are such tight-knit communities that eat, pray, shop, study and socialise together.” 

On Tuesday, Jewish White House Advisor Avi Berkovitz held a conference call with Jewish communal leaders and the rebbes of the largest Chasidic dynasties and pleaded with them to demand that their followers follow government advice. 

Following the discussion, Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum, leader of the largest Chasidic group, the Satmar, announced that he would be closing all Satmar schools and yeshivot for 15 days. 

Mr Teitelbaum is currently in self-quarantine in the group’s capital in Kiryas Joel, upstate New York. 

It is unclear whether this will also apply to Satmar institutions in the UK. 

Rebbetzin and Jewish Daily Forward editor Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt called on New York’s Jews to “have a private chuppa at home – you’ll have the party later,” while New York Times columnist Bari Weiss described the continued hosting of busy weddings as “a betrayal of the primary Jewish value: choose life!”. 

There were 1,374 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York state as of Wednesday morning. 

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