De Blasio Breaks Up Rabbi’s Funeral and Lashes Out Over Virus Distancing

Mayor Bill de Blasio lashed out at Hasidic residents of the Williamsburg section in Brooklyn on Tuesday night after personally overseeing the dispersal of a crowd of hundreds of mourners who had gathered for the funeral of a rabbi who died of the coronavirus.

In a series of tweets, Mr. de Blasio denounced the gathering, which was broken up by the police, and warned that any violation of the social-distancing guidelines in place to stop the virus’s spread could result in a summons or an arrest.

“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” the mayor said in one post. “When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.”

The authorities have dispersed several well-attended religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals, in New York neighborhoods with large Jewish populations in recent weeks.

But the episode on Tuesday, which, according. to Yeshiva World, involved the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, appeared to be the first time the mayor himself had participated in a dispersal.

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” the mayor added in a subsequent post. “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.”

Hasidic groups and leaders reacted to the mayor’s warning with outrage on Tuesday night.

Chaim Deutsch, a City Council member who represents a section of Brooklyn with a large Orthodox Jewish population, reacted with anger and disbelief on Twitter, writing, “This has to be a joke.”

Mr. Deutsch wrote: “Did the Mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant?? Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying – of course he has!)”

“But singling out one community is ridiculous,” he added in another post. “Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned.”

Others pointed to the crowds that gathered across the region earlier in the day to watch a military flyover by pilots from the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds that was meant to honor essential workers.

Photos posted on social media showed crowds gathering on city streets and in parks to watch the flyover; many of those assembled appeared to be standing close together and were not wearing masks.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said in a tweet that “people failed to social distance at a funeral the same day that thousands of New Yorkers failed to distance for 45 minutes to watch a flyover.”

Michael Gold contributed reporting.

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