Hundreds of members of the Borough Park Orthodox community filled the streets Tuesday night to protest new restrictions imposed on neighborhoods with a surge in COVID-19 cases, which include a limit on synagogue attendance and the closure of schools and non-essential businesses.
The demonstrations, held into early Wednesday morning, grew more chaotic as the night wore on and protesters resisted orders to disperse: one person was injured “from a physical confrontation with other congregant(s),” protesters set a fire in the middle of a crosswalk and threw cardboard boxes and masks into the flames, according to NBC New York.
A significant part of Borough Park faces the new tightened restrictions which limits houses of worship to 10 people or 25 percent capacity and completely closes schools and non-essential businesses. The area is subject to the most restrictive of three color-coded categories which are assigned by coronavirus case data.
The neighborhood is among nine in New York City’s “red zone” where the coronavirus positivity rate has held above 3 percent for seven straight days. Some members of the Orthodox community say they feel they have been unfairly blamed for the rise in cases.
Community activist Heshy Tischler spoke to a large crowd that gathered on the corner of 50th Street and 15th Avenue around 9 p.m., blasting New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio over the restrictions which must be enforced no later than Friday, the New York Post reported.
“It’s called civil disobedience, we can fight back,” Tischler said after tearing up his face mask. “Do not allow them to torture you or scare you,” he said, referring to elected officials.
At another protest on 13th Avenue, councilman Kalman Yeger told the crowd: “We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, the right to observe our religion,” according to Boro Park News.
As demonstrations continued late into the night, the number of protesters grew, with a group shutting down 13th Avenue to vehicular traffic at one point.
According to the New York Post, after two city sheriff’s deputies responded to a rubbish fire at the intersection of 46th Street and 13th Avenue after midnight, protesters chased them away and chanted “Jewish lives matter” as they held their ground.
The fire was later extinguished around 1:30 am by FDNY firefighters and police. Police say no arrests or summonses were issued, according to NBC.
Yeger and three other Jewish lawmakers — State Senator Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Councilman Chaim Deutsch — released a joint statement earlier on Tuesday sharply criticizing the governor for the restrictions and the Cuomo administration’s “lack of coordination and communication with local officials.”
“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today. He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities,” the statement read.
“His administration’s utter lack of coordination and communication with local officials has been an ongoing issue since the start of the pandemic, and particularly recently as we face this uptick,” the lawmakers continued.
The group said though they represent areas where COVID-19 has spiked, Cuomo’s administration had not kept them in the loop leading up to Tuesday’s decision to shut down the hot spots.
They also slammed Cuomo’s use of images of large gatherings of New York’s Jewish community — one of which was a 14-year-old photo — in a PowerPoint during his Monday press briefing.
“Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous,” the lawmakers wrote. “His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State.”