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Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn rebel against Cuomo's Covid-19 clampdown on their neighborhoods

In other coronavirus news: The Packers say no to fans at games as Wisconsin becomes virus hot spot, new jobless claims numbers point to more economic woes.
Image: Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in Borough Park in New York
Ultra-Orthodox Jews gather in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to protest Covid-19 restrictions in New York City on Oct. 7, 2020.Yuki Iwamura / Reuters

Brooklyn was seething with resentment Thursday after a second night of demonstrations in the New York City borough by Orthodox Jews infuriated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Covid-19 clampdown on their neighborhoods.

The epicenter of anger was in the Borough Park section where what started as a rally Wednesday night in support of President Donald Trump turned violent with at least a hundred Hasidim setting fires and burning masks in the streets and denouncing both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Local firebrand and city council candidate Harold “Heshy” Tischler directed the crowd to chant at a reporter named Jacob Kornbluh, who was covering the story for The Jewish Insider, local media reported. But the situation escalated and Kornbluh said he was attacked by the crowd.

“I was just brutally assaulted, hit in the head, and kicked at by an angry crowd of hundreds of community members of the Boro Park protest — while yelling at me 'Nazi’ and ‘Hitler’ — after Heshy Tischler recognized me and ordered the crowd to chase me down the street,” Kornbluh later tweeted after New York City police officers came to his aid.

Kornbluh’s account appeared to be supported by video posted on Twitter by a Gothamist reporter which showed Tischler yelling at the cornered reporter, “You are moyser (snitch). Everybody scream ‘Moyser!’”

Tischler did not immediately return a request for comment.

Earlier, another man identified by The New York Daily News and other media as Berish Getz was beaten unconscious when he was spotted videotaping the demonstration.

In other coronavirus developments

  • The World Health Organization reported a record one-day increase in global coronavirus cases with the total rising by 338,779 in just 24 hours. A surge of infections in Europe was responsible for the record rise, particularly in countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Poland. The U.S. accounts for about a fifth of the world's 36.3 million cases.
  • With Wisconsin now one of the nation's Covid-19 hot spots, the Green Bay Packers said they will bar fans indefinitely from Lambeau Field. “We are trending in the wrong direction in terms of hospitalization and positive cases," team President Mark Murphy said. The NFL teams in Florida are also limiting the crowds, even as Gov. Ron DeSantis has encouraged them to pack the stadiums.
  • First-time U.S. jobless claims rose to 840,000 last week. That was 15,000 more than expected and another sign the economic recovery from the pandemic was sputtering. The unemployment rate when President Donald Trump took office was 4.8 percent. It's now 8.4 percent.
  • The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine broke with tradition and urged Americans to vote the politicians who botched the nation's pandemic response out of office. The editorial did not mention Trump by name, but it was "filled with allusions to his actions," NBC News reported. On Trump's watch, more than 213,000 people in the U.S. have died of Covid-19 and 7.6 million have been infected. Both are world-leading figures.
  • Trump is among those infected. And the fact that about a dozen other people in the White House have contracted the coronavirus shows the limits of testing as a means of preventing the spread of the virus, public health expert Megan Ranney wrote for the NBC News' Think section.
  • In a sign of how little confidence they have in the White House contact tracing team, the Washington D.C. health department released an open letter urging anyone who attended a Sept. 26 Rose Garden event to see a doctor and get tested. Many of the White House infections have been tied to the event Trump held to introduce Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
  • One prominent Republican who did not attend that event was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Why? "I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th, because my impression was their approach to how to handle (Covid spread) is different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing," McConnell said.

De Blasio on Thursday condemned the violence and said more police officers would be deployed to Borough Park.

Asked why the city hadn’t thought to do so earlier, especially since the New York City Police Department had been out in force for the largely peaceful George Floyd protests, de Blasio said “we absolutely must have a consistency of response.”

“We have to ensure that all communities are treated the same way,” the mayor said.

But as of Thursday, nobody had been arrested in connection with the assaults on Kornbluh or Getz.

The fury was fueled by new restrictions that Cuomo unveiled Tuesday to combat a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases in the insular New York City neighborhoods where Orthodox Jews predominate and where there has been some resistance to wearing masks and other measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Once the nation’s Covid-19 hot spot, New York City and the rest of the state have been able to flatten the curve and Cuomo said he didn’t want to endanger that progress.

But to buttress his argument that more stringent steps needed to be taken, Cuomo displayed photographs of Orthodox synagogues that showed hundreds of worshippers crowded unsafely together for services. He also noted that the positivity rate in these Brooklyn neighborhoods was running at a worrisome 5 percent, compared to 1 percent in the rest of the state.

“To the extent there are communities that are upset, that’s because they haven’t been following the original rules,” Cuomo said. “That’s why the infection spread, because they weren’t following the rules and the rules weren’t being enforced.”

Four elected officials who represent the area issued a statement saying they were “appalled” by Cuomo’s move, especially as it came during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. They were joined in their dismay by Roman Catholic Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn who claimed the governor was attacking freedom of religion.

Trump, who recently returned to the White House despite still being infected with Covid-19, weighed in earlier on the Brooklyn confrontations by retweeting conservative actor James Woods who condemned the NYPD for breaking up a Sukkot celebration Monday night that violated the state’s pandemic restrictions.

And on the street, there was more defiance.

“Here in Borough Park, we don’t go by the laws of America," one demonstrator shouted at reporters Wednesday. “We have our own laws.”

Later on Thursday, a national Orthodox Jewish organization called Agudath Israel of America filed a federal lawsuit in Brooklyn charging that Cuomo “trampled” on their “constitutional right to the Free Exercise of Religion.”

But that sentiment was by no means universal in New York City's Jewish community.

“We support the governor’s and mayor’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 by using a data-driven, geographically based approach,” New York Jewish Agenda President Matt Nosanchuk said in a statement Wednesday. “Today, more than 300 Rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders came together to make clear there is no higher Jewish value than saving a human life.”

Meanwhile, a Brooklyn rabbi who lost both his parents and an older sister to Covid-19 was helping City Hall get the message across to his community that wearing masks and social distancing save lives.

“I’m more sensitive to it,” Rabbi Robert Blustein of the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center in the Kensington neighborhood told The City, a local news website.