The Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio has been rebuked for warning the “Jewish community” after a large funeral procession for a rabbi in the Charedi stronghold of Williamsburg was broken up by police on Tuesday.
The Mayor vented his outrage on Twitter after crowds had massed in the street to pay their respects to the Tolas Yaakov Rebbe, Chaim Mertz, who died from coronavirus aged 73.
He said, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
He said when he heard of the event, he “went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed.”
But Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, hit back at the criticism, tweeting that there were more than a million Jews in New York.
“The few who don’t social distance should be called out – but generalising 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.”
New York has been the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the USA with more than 23,000 deaths.
The secretary of Rabbi Mertz’s community, Jacob Mertz, apologised for the incident in a statement reported by Yeshiva World News.
“Our rabbi was revered by thousands as a holy, humble and caring person, and they wanted to participate in the funeral,” Mr Mertz explained. “We came up with a plan to have many streets closed, so that people participate and walk the coffin while following the social distancing rules and wearing masks.”
As people walk the streets in mask, a funeral shouldn’t be different, he said.
But the organisation t did not go according to plan, he said.
“We understand Mayor Bill de Blasio’s frustration and his speaking out against the gathering,” Mr Mertz said.
“We thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologise that it turned out otherwise. It also hurts that this led to singling out the Jewish community, and for that we apologize to all Jewish people.”